Donald Trump sat down for an impromptu interview on Thursday in the Grill Room of his West Palm Beach, Florida, golf club with reporter Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times, and proceeded to declare that there was no collusion between his campaign or administration and members of the Russian government. He declared it a lot, in fact. During the course of the roughly 30-minute interview, Trump managed to say the words “there was no collusion” exactly 16 times.
According to transcripts of the interview published in the New York Times, Trump also claimed that Democrats nearly unanimously admit there was no collusion, that the Robert Mueller investigation would ultimately exonerate him, and that he had the “absolute right to do what I want” with the Justice Department in regard to investigating Hillary Clinton. He criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and said that he “admired” Barack Obama’s AG Eric Holder for his loyalty to his president.
“Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion. And even these committees that have been set up. If you look at what’s going on — and in fact, what it’s done is, it’s really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it’s ever been. Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is. So, I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion.”
Trump also talked about his friendship with Paul Manafort, stating that they only worked together for “a few months” and explained that campaigning for the electoral college was different than campaigning for the popular vote in the same way that match play is different than stroke play in golf. The president stressed several times that the true collusion was between the Russians and the Democrats, before returning to his theme that “there was no collusion,” citing attorney Alan Dershowitz as proof of his claim and that even if there was collusion, it wasn’t a crime.
“He’s been amazing. And he’s a liberal Democrat. I don’t know him. He’s a liberal Democrat. I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, he said, No. 1, there is no collusion, No. 2, collusion is not a crime, but even if it was a crime, there was no collusion. And he said that very strongly. He said there was no collusion. And he has studied this thing very closely. I’ve seen him a number of times. There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime. But there’s no collusion. I don’t even say [inaudible]. I don’t even go that far.”
Critics, such as CNBC’s John Harwood and Tina Nguyen of Vanity Fair, were quick to label Trump’s performance in the interview “rambling” and “delusional.” Harwood, in his article for CNBC, commented on the repeated denials of collusion, saying that the president’s comments displayed an “inability to grasp conditions in the country” and demonstrated “delusions of omnipotence.” Similarly, in Tina Nguyen’s piece for Vanity Fair, she mentions Trump’s “dubiously rosy review” of his performance as president, pointing in particular to a passage in the interview where he claims the media actually wants to see him be reelected in 2020 and will begin to make their coverage of him more favorable sometime in the near future.
Meanwhile, according to an article in the Washington Post, White House officials were taken off guard by the interview, shocked that it was even taking place and then surprised again when the interview was posted by the New York Times. Apparently, the interview had been facilitated by Trump golf club member Christopher Ruddy, who had invited the reporter, Schmidt, to lunch and then introduced Schmidt to the president. White House Communications Director Hope Hicks even contacted Trump by cell phone at one point during the interview to see how it was going. One unnamed White House aide was reported to be so angry and frustrated by the interview that they referred to it as “embarrassing.”