Trump Continues To Focus On The Russia Investigation

Dec 31, 2017
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LAUREN FRAYER, HOST:

After a year of breaking-news alerts, 2017 appears to be drawing to a close quietly. But President Trump vacationing at his golf club in Florida has still managed to make a little news. He's tweeting his support of ongoing antigovernment protests in Iran. He also gave an impromptu interview to The New York Times. To talk about this, I'm joined by NPR's Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lauren.

FRAYER: Let's first tackle the president's Iran tweets. What did he say?

LIASSON: He tweeted support for the Iranian protesters. He said the world was watching. He said other than the vast military power of the U.S., Iran's people are what their leaders fear most. And this was a more forward-looking statements than the constrained criticism that President Obama offered to protesters when the last time this happened in Iran in 2009. He was worried that if the protesters - the protesters could be painted as pro-American if he supported them too much and his support could backfire.

FRAYER: Let's turn to that New York Times interview. This would have been a very unusual interview for any other president. How did it come about?

LIASSON: Well, it was completely impromptu. I agree unusual for any other president, not for Trump. It turned out that The New York Times' Michael Schmidt was at the Mar-a-Lago resort having lunch with one of the president's friends, and the president decided to talk to him for about half an hour. And we know that the president abhors a slow news weekend just like nature abhors a vacuum, and apparently, he was determined to fill it. He was happy that he dominated the news cycle, and it just shows you that he still - this is still his metric. He's still a reality TV celebrity, and he measures success by how much he dominates the media.

FRAYER: And what did we learn? What did he say?

LIASSON: We learned again that the president is obsessed with the Russia investigation by Bob Mueller. He said 16 different times in the interview that there was no collusion. He said that there was collusion with the Democrats. He said if there was collusion, it's not a crime. And he also made some revealing comments that reminded us about his authoritarian concept of his job. He said, I have the right to do what I want with the Department of Justice. It's true that he can fire and hire people there, but no one is above the law. He also said that he was trying to stay out of the investigations so he could be treated fairly and that he expected to be treated fairly. But he also praised members of Congress and the conservative media who have been relentlessly attacking Mueller and the entire FBI for being corrupt and biased, trying to delegitimize the investigation.

FRAYER: Looking forward, President Trump has the tax bill under his belt. What's next for 2018?

LIASSON: The president suggested in the interview that he would perhaps make some moves to be tougher on China, retaliate against trade practices. He said that he was not happy about oil shipments that are continuing from China to North Korea. We also know that congressional leaders and the president will be meeting very early in the new year to talk about deportation relief for the DREAMers, the so-called DACA bill. These are young people who were brought to the United States - sometimes illegally. And the president has decided to not provide them with deportation relief starting in March unless Congress acts.

But he said in this interview - again, he said I will not do a DACA plan without a wall. And this is a nonstarter for Democrats. Dozens of Republicans say they want a deal on the DREAMers because they don't want to be blamed for hundreds of thousands of young people and teachers being deported during an election year. So the question is, is this a bluff on the part of Trump, or is he willing to deport all these people if he doesn't get funding for the wall?

FRAYER: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.