President Donald Trump defended some of the most controversial claims of his young political career in a wide-ranging interview with Time magazine published Thursday, in which he offered a simple and absolute defense of his method:
“I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right. Hey, look, in the meantime, I guess I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not,” he told Time’s Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer.
The discussion for the cover story — titled “Is Truth Dead?” — covered subjects that ranged from Trump’s wiretap accusations to the 2016 campaign trail conspiracy theory in the National Enquirer falsely connecting Sen. Ted Cruz’s father and the JFK assassination.
Here are some takeaways from Trump’s Time interview:
Stands by Obama wiretap claim
Trump was unrepentant about his charge that former President Barack Obama “wiretapped” his phones at Trump Tower during the 2016 election — an allegation soundly refuted by FBI Director James Comey in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee earlier this week. Trump defended the claim by shifting its focus.
“When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes. Because a wiretapping is, you know, today it is different than wire tapping. It is just a good description. But wiretapping was in quotes. What I’m talking about is surveillance,” Trump told Time.
Nunes’ trek to the White House
Trump pointed to a stunning news conference Wednesday from Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in which the congressman unilaterally revealed that communications of Trump and associates may have been picked up after the election by intelligence agencies conducting surveillance of foreign targets. The President, however, dismissed the key distinction between his claim and the type of legal and incidental intercepts Nunes had suggested.
“Just today I heard, just a little while ago, that Devin Nunes had a news conference, did you hear about this, where they have a lot of information on tapping. Did you hear about that?” Trump said. “House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes told reporters, wow. Nunes said, so that means I’m right, Nunes said the surveillance appears to have been … incidental collection, that does not appear to have been related to concerns over Russia.”
If he saw it on TV, it’s real (unless it’s fake news)
Trump also defended his administration’s controversial assertion that the British spy agency GCHQ surveilled his campaign at the request of the Obama administration — an allegation the agency has fiercely denied, and which prompted a diplomatic incident that national security adviser H.R. McMaster was drawn in to defuse. Trump seemed to concede that the information might have been bad, but wouldn’t admit fault for repeating it.
“I quoted the judge the other day, Judge Napolitano,” Trump told Time, referring to the Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano, who reported the information on Fox News using anonymous sources, on which Trump’s White House based the claim. “I have a lot of respect for Judge Napolitano, and he said that three sources have told him things that would make me right. I don’t know where he has gone with it since then. But I’m quoting highly respected people from highly respected television networks.”
If he reads it in a newspaper, it’s real (unless it’s fake news)
Trump was also asked about his baseless claim during the 2016 campaign that the father of Sen. Ted Cruz, Rafael, could be linked to the JFK assassination — information he gleaned from a tabloid, the National Enquirer
“Well, that was in a newspaper,” Trump said. “No, no, I like Ted Cruz. He’s a friend of mine. But that was in a newspaper. I wasn’t, I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper. A Ted Cruz article referred to a newspaper story with — had a picture of Ted Cruz, his father, and Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast.”
‘I tend to be right’
Presented with a litany of other falsehoods and mischaracterizations, Trump offered this nonchalant rebuttal to his critics: “What am I going to tell you? I tend to be right. I’m an instinctual person, I happen to be a person that knows how life works.”
As for evidence, Trump repeatedly returned — unprompted — the his prediction that the Brexit vote would succeed, something many predicted wouldn’t happen.
“Brexit, I predicted Brexit, you remember that, the day before the event. I said, ‘No, Brexit is going to happen,’ and everybody laughed, and Brexit happened. Many many things. They turn out to be right,” he said.
By David Wright, CNN