President Donald Trump, on vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey, openly mused to reporters about a wide range of topics on Thursday — threatening North Korea with “the likes of which nobody’s seen before” while criticizing the timing of the FBI raid on Paul Manafort’s home and saying he wanted to “de-nuke the world.”
He also expressed his “great respect” for transgender people after publicly vowing to ban them from the US military, and compared the national opioid epidemic to LSD use in the 1960s.
All in all, it was an unusual scene — the president on vacation at a golf club, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, holding forth on everything from the possibility of nuclear war to whether he would fire the special counsel investigating him. Here are a few of the things he said.
1) North Korea is “not getting away with it”
Tensions between North Korea and the United States have soared over the past week, and North Korea claims to have drawn up detailed plans to launch a military strike against Guam. As Vox’s Zeeshan Aleem and Alex Ward note, Pyongyang has plans to fire four ballistic missiles that would land a few dozen miles away from the US territory.
But Trump on Thursday didn’t seem ready to lower the temperature — just the opposite, in fact.
“He has disrespected our country greatly,” Trump said of Kim Jong Un.
[Kim Jong Un] has said things that are horrific. And with me he’s not getting away with it. He got away with it for a long time, between him and his family. He’s not getting away with it. This is a whole new ballgame. He’s not going to be saying those things, and he’s certainly not going to be doing those things. I read about we’re in Guam by August 15. Let’s see what he does with Guam. He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before, what will happen in North Korea.
Asked by reporters what that meant, Trump said, “You’ll see. You’ll see. He’ll see.”
When another reporter asked if that was a dare, the president said:
It’s not a dare. It’s a statement. It has nothing to do with dare. That’s a statement. He’s not going to go around threatening Guam, and he’s not going to threaten the United States, and he’s not going to threaten Japan, and he’s not going to threaten South Korea. That’s not a dare, as you say. That is a statement of fact. ...
Our allies are safe. And I will tell you this: North Korea better get their act together, or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world.
2) Trump isn’t sure of the timing of the FBI raid on his campaign operative’s home
The Washington Post reported this week that FBI agents raided the home of Trump campaign operative Paul Manafort, who spent years as an aide to rich pro-Russia Ukrainian politicians and a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, on July 26. The raid was part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Talking to reporters, Trump said that he hadn’t talked to federal law enforcement officials about the raid. But he also raised the question of “whether or not it was appropriate” for the FBI to have conducted the raid in the morning and that doing so could have alarmed Manafort’s family.
The raid, he said, “was a very, very strong signal, or whatever” (emphasis mine):
REPORTER: Has Trump talked to the FBI or the attorney general about the raid on Manafort’s home?
TRUMP: I thought it was a very, very strong signal, or whatever. I know Mr. Manafort. Haven’t spoken to him for a long time, but I know him. ... I thought it was a very — you know, they do that very seldom, so I was surprised to see it. I was very, very surprised to see it. ...
I have not, but to do that early in the morning, whether or not it was appropriate you’d have to ask them. I’ve always found Paul Manafort to be a very decent man. He’s like a lot of other people, probably makes consultant fees from all over the place, who knows, I don’t know, but I thought it was pretty tough stuff to wake him up, perhaps his family was there. I think that’s pretty tough stuff.
3) Trump says he’s “very thankful” Putin expelled US diplomats
As Vox’s Tara Golshan explains in greater depth, Trump also told reporters on Thursday that he was “thankful” Vladimir Putin had dismissed American diplomats from Russia.
In late July, Putin ordered the United States reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755 employees after Trump signed a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia.
Trump said that was fine by him because it would save the US money on diplomatic personnel:
I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll. There’s no real reason for them to go back. I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.
4) Trump has “great respect” for transgender people, whom he just banned from the military
Trump caught Washington by surprise on July 26 when he announced in a tweet that all transgender people would be banned from serving in the US military. The military wasn’t consulted about such a ban, and it’s still not clear the announcement made in the tweets will be translated into government policy.
Lawmakers in both parties expressed outrage over Trump’s announcement. But confronted about the decision by reporters, Trump touted his “great support from that community” in the 2016 election. (About 80 percent of gay, lesbian, and transgender people voted for Hillary Clinton in November, according to CNN):
I have great respect for the community. … I think I’ve had great support, or I’ve had great support from that community. I got a lot of votes. But the transgender, the military’s working on it now. … It’s been a very difficult situation, and I think I’m doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it. As you know, it’s been a very complicated issue for the military, it’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor.
5) Asked about opioid epidemic, Trump rambles on about LSD
Vox’s German Lopez has detailed at length how the opioid epidemic is now the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and how Trump’s promises to tackle the crisis have amounted to a “big nothingburger.”
Trump signaled Thursday that he will declare a national emergency after all. But it was part of a somewhat rambling response about how the opioid epidemic compares to LSD use in his youth:
We’re going to draw it up, and we’re going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had. You know, when I was growing up, they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years. And I have to say this in all fairness, this is a worldwide problem, not just a United States problem. This is happening worldwide. But this is a national emergency, and we are drawing documents now to so attest.
6) Trump promises not to fire special counsel Mueller
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties have moved to insulate special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe should Trump try to meddle in it. Trump has made no secret of his opposition to the investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia, and the Washington Post has reported that Trump was interested in blocking or derailing the investigation.
Trump denied that, telling reporters on Thursday he has not given “any thought” to dismissing Mueller:
I haven’t given it any thought. Well, I’ve been reading about it from you people. You say, oh, I’m going to dismiss him. No, I’m not dismissing anybody. I mean, I want them to get on with the task. But I also want the Senate and the House to come out with their findings. Now, judging from the people leaving the meetings, they leave the meetings all the time and they say, “We haven’t found anything. ...”
7) Trump on some leaks: “Actually I’m somewhat honored”
Since his administration began, Trump has inveighed against White House officials leaking information about its internal operations. On Thursday, he referenced leaks in the press that appear designed to curry favor with him, calling them “leaks where people want to love me and they’re all fighting for love.”
Asked about leakers on Thursday, Trump responded:
We’re looking. We’re always looking. We have two leaks. You have the leaks coming out of intelligence and various departments having to do with Syria, having to do with all sorts of different places, having to do, frankly, with North Korea. And those are very serious. And then you have the leaks where people want to love me and they’re all fighting for love. Those are not very important, but certainly we don’t like them. Those are little inner-White House leaks. They’re not very important. But actually I’m somewhat honored by them.
But the important leaks and the leaks that the attorney general is looking at very strongly are the leaks coming out of intelligence, and we have to stop them for the security and the national security of our country.