In an off-the-record conversation with reporters Wednesday, President Trump discussed the ongoing Russia controversy and his eldest son’s newfound involvement, his trip to France, and the possibility of inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House. The White House retroactively put the discussion on the record on Thursday, allowing media outlets to share it with the public.
What follows are excerpts from the conversation as transcribed and shared by the White House. Trump’s discussion took place on board Air Force One en route to France for the President’s meeting with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron.
On Donald Trump, Jr.:
THE PRESIDENT: Don is — as many of you know Don — he’s a good boy. He’s a good kid. And he had a meeting, nothing happened with the meeting. It was a short meeting as he told me — because I only heard about it two or three days ago.
As he told me, the meeting went — and it was attended by a couple of other people who — one of them left after a few minutes — which is Jared. The other one was playing with his iPhone. Don listened, out of politeness, and realized it wasn’t . . . .
Honestly, in a world of politics, most people are going to take that meeting. If somebody called and said, hey — and you’re a Democrat — and by the way, they have taken them — hey, I have really some information on Donald Trump. You’re running against Donald Trump. Can I see you? I mean, how many people are not going to take the meeting?
On allegations of collusion with Russia:
THE PRESIDENT: What pressure? I didn’t — I did nothing. Hey, now it’s shown there’s no collusion, there’s no obstruction, there’s no nothing. Honestly, the whole thing, it is really a media witch hunt. It’s been a media witch hunt. And it’s bad for the country. You know, when you talk about Russia, if Russia actually did whatever they want to do, they got to be laughing, because look at what happens — how much time. . . .
They feel it’s a witch hunt, the people. There are a lot of people. And those people vote. They don’t stay home because it’s drizzling. We proved that. But every single party chairman said that my base is substantially stronger than it was in November. That’s a big compliment. That’s a big compliment. And I feel it.
And I think what’s happening is, as usual, the Democrats have played their card too hard on the Russia thing, because people aren’t believing it. It’s a witch hunt and they understand that. When they say “treason” — you know what treason is? That’s Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for giving the atomic bomb, okay? But what about all the congressmen, where I see the woman sitting there surrounded by — in Congress.
So I think it’s a good thing. When Hillary Clinton spent her ads — you know, she spent almost 100 percent of her ads on anti-Donald Trump ads. You know that. Every ad was an anti ad. When the election came, nobody knew what she stood for.
I heard tonight, and I saw tonight, and I read tonight that they’re making a big mistake. And I a lot of the Democrats feel — they say, we’re putting all our money into this Russia stuff and it’s making Trump stronger. Because my people and the people that support me, who are incredible people, those people are angry because they feel it’s being unfair and a witch hunt.
On the visit to France:
Q: When were you last in Paris? When were you last in France?
THE PRESIDENT: So I was asked to go by the President, who I get along with very well, despite a lot of fake news. You know, I actually have a very good relationship with all of the people at the G20. And he called me, he said, would you come, it’s Bastille Day — 100 years since World War I. And I said, that’s big deal, 100 years since World War I. SO we’re going to go, I think we’re going to have a great time, and we’re going to do something good. And he’s doing a good job. He’s doing a good job as President.
More on President Putin and Russia:
Q: Are you mad that Putin lied about the meeting that you had with him, especially about —
THE PRESIDENT: What meeting?
Q: At the G20, when he said that you didn’t — you know, you accepted that the hacking wasn’t real.
THE PRESIDENT: He didn’t say that. No. He said, I think he accepted it, but you’d have to ask him. That’s a big difference. So I said, very simply — and the first 45 minutes, don’t forget, most of the papers said I’d never bring it up. Had to be the first 20 to 25 minutes.
And I said to him, were you involved with the meddling in the election? He said, absolutely not. I was not involved. He was very strong on it. I then said to him again, in a totally different way, were you involved with the meddling. He said, I was not — absolutely not.
Q: Do you remember what the different way was that you asked —
THE PRESIDENT: Somebody said later to me, which was interesting. Said, let me tell you, if they were involved, you wouldn’t have found out about it. Okay, which is a very interesting point.
Q: But did you say, okay, I believe you, let’s move on?
THE PRESIDENT: What I said, I asked him, were you involved? He said, very strongly — said to him a second time — totally different — were you involved? Because we can’t let that happen. And I mean whether it’s Russia or anybody else, we can’t let there be even a scintilla of doubt when it comes to an election. I mean, I’m very strong on that.
And I’m not saying it wasn’t Russia. What I’m saying is that we have to protect ourselves no matter who it is. You know, China is very good at this. I hate to say it, North Korea is very good at this. Look what they did to Sony Studios. They were the ones that did the whole deal to Sony. You know, we’re dealing with highly sophisticate people.
So, China is very good. You have many countries. And you have many individuals that are very good at this. But we can’t have — and I did say, we can’t have a scintilla of doubt as our elections and going forward.
Q: Have you told him that?
THE PRESIDENT: I told him. I said, look, we can’t — we can’t have — now, he said absolutely not twice. What do you do? End up in a fistfight with somebody, okay? Because then I brought up Syria, and I said —
THE PRESIDENT: Very shortly there afterward. And I said, there’s so much killing in Syria. We got to solve Syria. We’ve got to solve Ukraine. And you know, I’ve always said — and I’m not just talking about Russia — we’re a lot better off — like it’s a good thing that I have a good relationship with President Xi. It’s a good thing I have a good relationship with every one of them — Modi — you saw that. Every single one of them of all 19 — there’s 20 with us. All 19, I have a great relationship with.
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More on President Putin and Russia, and on energy:
Q: Do you think you’ll invite Putin to the White House?
THE PRESIDENT: I would say yes, yeah. At the right time. I don’t think this is the right time, but the answer is yes I would. Look, it’s very easy for me to say absolutely, I won’t. That’s the easy thing for me to do, but that’s the stupid thing to do. Let’s be the smart people not the stupid people. The easiest thing for me to tell you is that I would never invite him. We will never ever talk to Russia. That all of my friends in Congress will say, oh he’s so wonderful, he’s so wonderful. Folks, we have perhaps the second most powerful nuclear country in the world. If you don’t have dialogue, you have to be fools. Fools. It would be the easiest thing for me to say to Maggie and all of you, I will never speak to him, and everybody would love me. But I have to do what’s right.
And, by the way, I only want to make great deals with Russia. Remember this, I have built up — we’re getting $57 billion more for the military. Hillary was going to cut the military. I’m a tremendous fracker, coal, natural gas, alternate energy, wind – everything, right? But I’m going to produce much much more energy than anyone else who was ever running for office. Ever. We’re going to have clean coal, and Hillary wasn’t. Hillary was going to stop fracking. She was going to stop coal totally. Hey, in West Virginia I beat her by 42 points. Remember, she went and sat with the miners and they said get the hell out of here. So, I was going to — if Hillary got in, your energy prices right now would be double. You’d be doing no fracking. You’d be doing practically no fossil fuels.
So Putin, everything I do is the exact opposite. I don’t believe — in fact, the one question that I didn’t ask him that I wish I did — but we had so many other things going, and really the ceasefire was a very complicated talk, it was a very important talk to me because I wanted to see if we could start a ceasefire.
Now, why does that affect Russia? Because Russia makes its money through selling of oil, and we’ve got underneath us more oil than anybody, and nobody knew it until five years ago. And I want to use it. And I don’t want that taken away by the Paris Accord. I don’t want them to say all of that wealth that the United States has under its feet, but that China doesn’t have and that other countries don’t have, we can’t use. So now we no longer have the advantage. We have a tremendous advantage. We have more natural resources under our feet than any other country. That’s a pretty big statement. Ten years ago, five years ago even, you couldn’t make that statement. We’re blessed. I don’t want to give it up. I don’t want to say oh, okay, we won’t use it. But think of it. So, if Hillary is there, you’re going to have a far less amount of fuel. Therefore, energy prices will be much, much higher. That’s great for Russia.
So, the next time I’m with Putin, I’m going to ask him: who were you really for? Because I can’t believe that he would have been for me. Me. Strong military, strong borders — but he cares less about the borders — but strong military, tremendous. We’re going to be an exporter of fuel this year. We’re going to be exporting. What was the first thing I signed when I got in? The Keystone Pipeline, and the Keystone Pipeline goes from Canada all the way through our country right into the Gulf, and the ships are there to take it all over and compete with Russia.
On Russia sanctions:
Q: But you wouldn’t sign a new sanctions bill if it passes the House?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m not talking about new, I’m talking about the old sanctions. Wait, we got to get this right. Ready? I think I said it right but just in case. We have very heavy sanctions on Russia right now. I would not and have never even thought about taking them off. Somebody said, Donald Trump wants to — I don’t want to take them off.
Q: Putin didn’t raise that with you?
THE PRESIDENT: He never raised it. We did, I think, talk about the sanctions that Congress wants to pass, but it was very brief. Much of it was talked about Ukraine. Look, we talked about the elections. We talked about Ukraine and Syria. Not in that order. We talked about Syria and Ukraine. But I will just tell you, I didn’t say this to him. We didn’t talk about this aspect of it. I would never take the sanctions off until something is worked out to our satisfaction and everybody’s satisfaction in Syria and in Ukraine.
I saw a report and I read a report that Trump wants to take off the sanctions. I’ve made a lot of money. I’ve made great deals. That’s what I do. Why would I take sanctions off without getting anything?