President Donald Trump has tweeted about his inauguration crowd size, he spoke about it in a meeting with the CIA in front of a memorial wall for fallen agents, and he sent his press secretary to make false claims about the ceremony’s turnout on his first full day in office. Despite all that, Trump rejects the notion that he’s focusing on his popularity — it’s the media that “keeps bringing it up.”
Unsurprisingly, he talked about it at length Wednesday night during his first interview from the White House with ABC’s David Muir.
The interview also covered, excerpted below, the payment of the Mexico-US border wall, Trump’s position on torture, and his view on the failings of Obamacare. But Trump spent a lot of airtime on crowd sizes and the popular vote. Continuing a now months-long argument that he does have the people’s mandate to lead, Trump again claimed widespread voter fraud may have lost him the popular vote.
Here are the five most interesting exchanges from the interview.
1) President Donald Trump still believes — without any evidence — that there is widespread voter fraud
Before the election, Trump warned his supporters that the polls on Election Day would be rigged — seemingly creating an excuse for what at the time looked like a humiliating impending loss for the Republican nominee. Then he won the Electoral College and the presidency.
But his unsubstantiated calls alleging voter fraud haven’t ended. On Monday in a closed-door meeting with lawmakers, Trump falsely claimed that between 3 million and 5 million unauthorized immigrants voted against him in November, swinging the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, and he has called for an investigation into widespread voter fraud.
He also has another excuse for losing the popular vote: He wasn’t campaigning for it. Had he strategized around the popular vote, he would have won it, he said.
Here is the exchange:
MUIR: I wanna ask you about something you said this week right here at the White House. You brought in congressional leaders to the White House. You spoke at length about the presidential election with them — telling them that you lost the popular vote because of millions of illegal votes, 3 to 5 million illegal votes. That would be the biggest electoral fraud in American history. Where is the evidence of that?
TRUMP: So, let me tell you first of all, it was so misrepresented. That was supposed to be a confidential meeting. And you weren't supposed to go out and talk to the press as soon as you — but the Democrats viewed it not as a confidential meeting.
MUIR: But you have tweeted ... about the millions of illegals ...
TRUMP: Sure. And I do — and I'm very ... and I mean it. But just so you — it was supposed to be a confidential meeting ... I said it. And I said it strongly because what's going on with voter fraud is horrible. That's number one. Number two, I would've won the popular vote if I was campaigning for the popular vote. I would've gone to California, where I didn't go at all. I would've gone to New York, where I didn't campaign at all.
I would've gone to a couple of places that I didn't go to. And I would've won that much easier than winning the Electoral College. But as you know, the Electoral College is all that matters. It doesn't make any difference. So I would've won very, very easily. But it's a different form of winning. You would campaign much differently. You would have a totally different campaign. So, but ... you're just asking a question. I would've easily won the popular vote, much easier, in my opinion, than winning the Electoral College. I ended up going to 19 different states. I went to the state of Maine four times for one. I needed one.
I went to M— I got it, by the way. But it turned out I didn't need it because we ended up winning by a massive amount, 306. I needed 270. We got 306. You and everybody said, "There's no way you get to 270." I mean, your network said and almost everybody said, "There's no way you can get to ..." So, I went to Maine four times. I went to various places. And that's the beauty of the Electoral College. With that being said, if you look at voter registration, you look at the dead people that are registered to vote who vote, you look at people that are registered in two states, you look at all of these different things that are happening with registration. You take a look at those registration for — you're gonna s— find — and we're gonna do an investigation on it.
Muir pressed on, noting that there’s no evidence to believe millions of undocumented residents voted. But it didn’t sway Trump:
MUIR: House Speaker Paul Ryan has said, "I have seen no evidence. I have made this very, very clear." Sen. Lindsey Graham saying, "It's the most inappropriate thing for a president to say without proof. He seems obsessed with the idea that he could not have possibly lost the popular vote without cheating and fraud." I wanna ask you about something bigger here. Does it matter more now ...
TRUMP: There's nothing bigger. There's nothing bigger.
MUIR: But it is important because ...
TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you know what's important, millions of people agree with me when I say that if you would’ve looked on one of the other networks and all of the people that were calling in they're saying, "We agree with Mr. Trump. We agree." They're very smart people.
The people that voted for me — lots of people are saying they saw things happen. I heard stories also. But you're not talking about millions. But it's a small little segment. I will tell you, it's a good thing that we're doing because at the end we're gonna have an idea as to what's going on. Now, you're telling me Pew report has all of a sudden changed. But you have other reports and you have other statements. You take a look at the registrations, how many dead people are there? Take a look at the registrations as to the other things that I already presented.
He also believes these millions of illegal votes all went to Clinton.
MUIR: Do you think that your words matter more now?
TRUMP: Yes, very much.
MUIR: Do you think that that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence?
TRUMP: No, not at all. Not at all, because many people feel the same way that I do. And ...
MUIR: You don't think it undermines your credibility if there’s no evidence?
TRUMP: No, not at all, because they didn't come to me. Believe me. Those were Hillary votes. And if you look at it, they all voted for Hillary. They all voted for Hillary. They didn't vote for me. I don't believe I got one. Okay, these are people that voted for Hillary Clinton. And if they didn't vote, it would've been different in the popular.
2) More on popularity: Trump says he’s not obsessed with the inauguration crowd size — it’s the media that’s obsessed
In the days leading up to inauguration, Trump hyped what was going to be “record-setting” turnout at his swearing-in ceremony. It wasn’t. Unlike President Barack Obama’s historic inauguration in 2009, turnout at Trump’s inauguration was average.
When media outlets began making comparisons to Obama’s first inauguration, Trump reacted in several angry tweets and dispatched press secretary Sean Spicer to make false statements about the crowd size.
Muir asked Trump why the matter is still important to him — and Trump turned it on the media, blaming them for “bringing it up,” and “demeaning” the people who attended:
MUIR: I guess that's what I'm getting at. You talked about the poll, the people loving your inaugural speech and the size of your ...
TRUMP: No, because you bring it up.
MUIR: I'm asking, well, on day one you ...
TRUMP: Well, you just brought it up. I didn't bring it up. I didn't wanna — talk about the inauguration speech. But I think I did a very good job, and people really liked it. You saw the poll. Just came out this morning. You bring it up. I didn't bring it up.
MUIR: So, polls and crowd size and covers on Time, those still matter now that you're here as president.
TRUMP: Well, you keep bringing it up. I had a massive amount of people here. They were showing pictures that were very unflattering, as unflattering — from certain angles — that were taken early and lots of other things. I'll show you a picture later if you’d like of a massive crowd.
In terms of a total audience including television and everything else that you have we had supposedly the biggest crowd in history. The audience watching the show. And I think you would even agree to that. They say I had the biggest crowd in the history of inaugural speeches. I'm honored by that. But I didn't bring it up. You just brought it up.
MUIR: See, I — I'm not interested in the inaugural crowd size. I think the American people can look at images side by side and decide for themselves. I am curious about the first full day here at the White House, choosing to send the press secretary out into the briefing room, summoning reporters to talk about the inaugural crowd size. Does that send a message to the American people that that's — that's more important than some of the very pressing issues?
TRUMP: Part of my whole victory was that the men and women of this country who have been forgotten will never be forgotten again. Part of that is when they try and demean me unfairly 'cause we had a massive crowd of people. We had a crowd — I looked over that sea of people and I said to myself, "Wow."
And I've seen crowds before. Big, big crowds. That was some crowd. When I looked at the numbers that happened to come in from all of the various sources, we had the biggest audience in the history of inaugural speeches. I said the men and women that I was talking to who came out and voted will never be forgotten again. Therefore, I won't allow you or other people like you to demean that crowd and to demean the people that came to Washington, DC, from faraway places because they like me. But more importantly, they like what I'm saying.
3) “Mexico will pay for the wall” has become “Mexico will reimburse the US for the wall”
At Trump’s campaign rallies, his call for a Mexico-US border wall evolved into a call-and-response chant. “And who’s going to pay for the wall?” Trump would ask a cheering crowd. “MEXICO,” his supporters would shout back.
What Trump didn’t clarify was when Mexico would pay.
Now Trump has an answer: He expects American taxpayers to foot the bill — an estimated $12 billion to $15 billion upfront, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — and says Mexico will reimburse the US after trade negotiations. (It’s worth noting that Mexico’s leadership continues to be adamant that it will not pay for the wall, and President Enrique Peña Nieto just canceled a scheduled meeting with Trump for next week.)
Here’s the exchange with Muir:
MUIR: Are you going to direct US funds to pay for this wall? Will American taxpayers pay for the wall?
TRUMP: Ultimately it'll come out of what's happening with Mexico. We're gonna be starting those negotiations relatively soon. And we will be in a form reimbursed by Mexico, which I will say ...
MUIR: So they'll pay us back?
TRUMP: Yeah, absolutely, 100 percent.
MUIR: So the American taxpayer will pay for the wall at first?
TRUMP: All it is, is we'll be reimbursed at a later date from whatever transaction we make from Mexico. Now, I could wait a year and I could hold off the wall. But I wanna build the wall. We have to build the wall. We have to stop drugs from pouring in. We have to stop people from just pouring into our country. We have no idea where they're from. And I campaigned on the wall. And it's very important. But that wall will cost us nothing.
MUIR: What are you gonna say to some of your supporters who might say, "Wait a minute, I thought Mexico was going to pay for this right at the start."
TRUMP: Well, I'd say very simply that they are going to pay for it. I never said they're gonna pay from the start. I said Mexico will pay for the wall. ... I wanna start the wall immediately. Every supporter I have — I have had so many people calling and tweeting and — and writing letters saying they're so happy about it. I wanna start the wall. We will be reimbursed for the wall.
4) Trump said he was “surprised” his defense secretary doesn’t believe in torture — and made it clear that he does
Trump has been vocal about using torture against the enemy. During a campaign debate in March, he said he would bring back waterboarding. He renewed those claims on Wednesday, describing torture as an effective strategy, and noted that he was surprised that his defense secretary, James Mattis, doesn’t agree:
MUIR: The last president, President Obama, said the US does not torture. Will you say that?
TRUMP: Well, I have a general who I have great respect for, Gen. Mattis, who said — I was a little surprised — who said he's not a believer in torture. As you know, Mr. [Mike] Pompeo was just approved, affirmed by the Senate. He's a fantastic guy, he's gonna be the head of the CIA.
And you have somebody fabulous as opposed to the character that just got out who didn't — was not fabulous at all. And he will I think do a great job. And he is — you know, I haven't gone into great detail. But I will tell you I have spoken to others in intelligence. And they are big believers in, as an example, waterboarding.
MUIR: You did tell me ...
TRUMP: Because they say it does work. It does work.
MUIR: Mr. President, you ... you told me during one of the debates that you would bring back waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse.
TRUMP: I would do ... I would do — I wanna keep our country safe. I wanna keep our country safe.
5) Trump called critics of his “take the oil” comments “fools”
Trump has said before that the United States should have seized Iraqi oil.
Now he says the US may “have another chance" to take the oil. It’s part of his plan to cut off funds to ISIS, but it also would break international law, Muir pointed out.
Trump dismisses critics of this plan as “fools”:
MUIR: You've heard the critics who say that would break all international law, taking the oil. But I wanna get to the words ...
MUIR: ... that you ...
TRUMP: Wait, wait, can you believe that? Who are the critics who say that? Fools.
MUIR: Let, let me ...
TRUMP: I don't call them critics. I call them fools.
MUIR: ... let me talk about your words ...
TRUMP: We should've kept — excuse me. We should've taken the oil. And if we took the oil, you wouldn't have ISIS. And we would have had wealth. We have spent right now $6 trillion in the Middle East. And our country is falling apart.