Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Updated: Fri, 22 Nov 2019 21:15:25 GMT
Looking for a shelter in the storm amid one of the most damaging weeks of his presidency, President Donald Trump phoned in for a nearly hour-long monologue -- er, interview with "Fox & Friends."
The "questions" ranged from the merely pedestrian (how do you make sure people know all the good things you have done for the economy?) to the outright outlandish (how high did the corruption go in the last administration?).
Trump's answers were, as ever, a sort of stream-of-consciousness riff on whatever came to mind.
I watched the whole thing and went through the transcript. The most memorable(?) lines are below.
1. "They were spying on my campaign and it went right up to the top and everybody knows it and now we're going to find out."
In which Trump repeats a debunked claim that the FBI was "spying" on his campaign and then President Barack Obama ordered it. There is zero evidence to support that charge. What did happen -- as far as we know -- is that as part of the FBI's counterintelligence operation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, it did obtain a FISA warrant to wiretap then-Trump foreign policy aide Carter Page's phone. Also: Away we go!
2. "And this was spying on my campaign. Something that has never been done in the history of our country."
[narrator voice] It wasn't.
3. "This was an overthrow attempt at the presidency. They tried to overthrow the presidency. This is a disgrace."
"This" -- to the extent a "this" actually exists -- is a counterintelligence operation run through the FBI aimed at getting to the bottom of Russia's attempts to interfere in our election. The FISA warrant to listen in on Page went through the proper channels and had zero to do with Obama.
4. "So my conversation was a perfect conversation. The Ukrainian president said, what are they talking about? They must think we're nuts in this country."
I don't doubt that last sentence is true.
5. "It was appropriate. It was perfect. It was nice. It was everything."
The July 25 phone call referenced here between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky raised concerns among several longtime diplomats who were either on the call or received a read out of it. And in some cases they immediately reported their concerns to their superiors. And oh yeah, you can read the transcript of the call and it sure as hell isn't "perfect."
6. "Now, Adam Schiff is a sick puppy."
What's remarkable is that Trump has so stretched the bounds of acceptable conduct that him attacking the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee as a "sick puppy" barely merits mention.
7. "What you're going to see, I predict, will be perhaps the biggest scandal in the history of our country, political scandal."
What is Trump even talking about here? Presumably that there was some sort of "deep state" conspiracy aimed at trying to keep him from winning in 2016? No matter what it is, it's going to be BIG. BIGGEST.
8. "I think you're going to see things that are going to be incredible if it's -- if it's done right. And I purposely stay out."
This was Trump's "answer" when pressed about what, exactly, he was talking about in regards to the biggest scandal in American history. My favorite part? How he adds the "if it's done right" -- handing himself an out when nothing happens to say it was a coverup. Truly astounding.
9. "You have a FISA report coming out, which the word is, it's historic, that's what the word is. That's what I hear. And if it's historic, you're going to see something."
This is a reference to the report being prepared by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz into how the FISA warrants on Page were obtained. Horowitz is expected to present his report next month.
10. "I don't like to use the word 'deep state.' I just say they're really bad, sick people."
"Tonight, we forcefully condemn the blatant corruption of the Democrat Party, the Fake News Media, and the rogue bureaucrats of the Deep State. The only message these radicals will understand is a crushing defeat on November 3, 2020! #KAG2020." -- Donald Trump, October 17
11. "They were spying on my campaign. This is my opinion. I said it a long time ago."
"This is my opinion." Yes, yes it is. And there is zero factual evidence to back it up. What we know was happening -- again -- is that the FBI had obtained a series of FISA warrants to listen in to Page's conversation because they had reason to believe he had been compromised by the Russians.
12. "Remember when I put out a tweet and I talked about, they're wiretapping, in quotes, meeting, modern-day version of whatever wiretapping may be."
Here's Trump's initial tweet, from March 4, 2017: "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had me 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"
13. "They wrote up the phony -- fake dossier, the disgusting, fake dossier. And they tried to have it put out prior to the election."
The so-called "Steele Dossier" wasn't written by a "they." It was written by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence official. Also, the FBI confirmed some elements of the Steele Dossier, while other parts of it were not able to be substantiated. Which is very different than it being "fake."
14. "They gave the server to Crowdstrike, or whatever it's called, which is a country -- which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian."
100% debunked conspiracy theory here, folks. Read this.
15. "Well, that's what the word is."
This was Trump's response to a rare bit of pushback from Fox News' Steve Doocy, who asked Trump whether he was sure the Democratic National Committee gave its hacked server from the 2016 election to the Ukrainians. On a related note, I am going to start saying outlandish things to my wife like, "There's a ban on me unloading the dishwasher" and when she asks if I am sure about that, I will respond: "Well, that's what the word is."
16. "I mean I asked it very point blank because we're looking for corruption. There's tremendous corruption."
This is Trump referring to his July 25 call with Zelensky. To which I respond with this, from US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland's testimony to Congress on Wednesday: "[Zelensky] had to announce the investigations. He didn't actually have to do them, as I understood it."
17. "I can't tell you that. I can only say that we have a lot of information that a lot of bad things happened."
Trump was asked what his source was for his various allegations about corruption in the past administration -- up to and including Obama. Can't say it! But there's "a lot of information that a lot of bad things happened." Righto!
18. "So -- so here's the thing, we have so many -- regardless of what's coming out, OK, the information that we have now is beyond belief already. But what they have coming out, I hear, is historic."
[tries to diagram sentence, head explodes]
19. "The whole thing -- now, Schiff, remember this, he makes it all up. He's sick. There's something wrong with him."
Just the President of the United States making a vague claim about the mental health of the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Totally normal!
20. "So he made up my phone call. He made it up. He made up a phone call and then when I released it everybody was embarrassed."
This makes me INSANE. Schiff was VERY clear that he was offering his own take on the July 25 call transcript. He was never trying to pretend that what he was saying was a verbatim transcript of Trump's words on the call. Please read this. Please. I beg you.
21. "Now, with this guy, who, by the way, I hardly know him, OK?"
Trump's talking about Gordon Sondland here. The person he appointed as an ambassador. Someone who, according to Sondland's under-oath testimony, Trump spoke to around 20 times by phone -- including the day after the July 25 call with Zelensky.
22. "But the guy yesterday on the telephone, David Holmes, yes, I heard the conversation. Well, I have really good hearing. And I've been watching guys for 40 years make phone calls and I can't hear when you're -- and you could be two feet away, I can't hear people making calls."
First, "I have really good hearing." Because, of course. Second, Trump is alleging that Holmes, who testified he overheard part of the July 26 conversation between Trump and Sondland, made the whole thing up. Which means he is accusing Holmes of lying under oath. Which is a felony. So yeah, I am sure Holmes would take that risk...
23. "Call it anti-Trump people."
Sondland was appointed by Trump. I can't emphasize this strongly enough.
24. "Joe Biden is corrupt."
Wow, breaking news here! Oh wait, I'm just now getting this update: Trump provided zero evidence for this claim -- and the "Fox & Friends" hosts didn't challenge him on it. Sure. Good job!
25. "Now, what he said also is, there was no quid pro quo. I want nothing. Remember it was trending number one."
"It was trending number one." -- The President of the United States.
26. "The most important phrase was, I want nothing, twice I said it, I want nothing, I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo. Have President Zelensky do whatever is right, something to that effect. And they didn't put that in. That was the end of him."
Trump said those words on a call with Sondland on September 9, more than a week after the White House counsel's office had been informed a whistleblower complaint had been filed in regard to Trump's action on the July 25 call with Zelensky. So. yeah.
27. "I turned off the television"
EVERGREEN FACT CHECK: False.
28. "Are we going to be sending massive amounts of money to a country and they're corrupt and they steal the money and it goes into everybody's bank account? So you have to look at that."
But that's not what Trump was doing here. He was making two very specific requests in the phone call with Zelensky: 1) Crowdstrike 2) Bidens. And both of those requests were to satisfy his own personal motives and interests, not to root out corruption in the country more broadly.
29. "And I will tell you this about Joe Biden, I never -- I never said it specifically on him."
"The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it." -- Donald Trump, July 25 call with Zelensky
30. "Why isn't Germany, France, the European Union, why aren't all those countries in Europe, why aren't they paying?
[narrator voice] They are paying.
31. "OK, first of all, Volker, I don't know him. Don't know him."
Well, Kurt Volker was the special envoy to Ukraine appointed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but sure: Don't know him!
32. "This guy, Sondland, hardly know him. I've had a couple of conversations with him."
Around 20 cell phone conversations, according to Sondland's sworn testimony. Or, you know, a "couple."
33. "But Rudy Giuliani was one of the great crime fighters of all time. He's also a friend of mine. He's a great person. He's like an iconic figure in this country for two reasons. He was the greatest mayor in the history of New York and he was the greatest crime fighter probably in the last 50 years."
If you thought Trump might throw Giuliani under the bus, think again. At least for today.
34. "When Rudy Giuliani goes there, and you hear it's a corrupt country, I mean it means a lot. It means a lot."
What would you say it means, exactly?
35. "Look, the ambassador, the woman, she wouldn't even put up -- she's an Obama person. You know, I've -- I said, why are you being so kind? Well, sir, she's a woman, we have to be nice."
Trump on former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch: "She's a woman, we have to be nice." Yet more evidence that if you listen long enough, Trump always says the quiet part out loud.
36. "Don't forget, Ukraine hated me. They were after me in the election. They wanted Hillary Clinton to win. And when I won, all of a sudden they became so nice."
"Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country -- and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves." -- Fiona Hill, November 21
37. "But this ambassador that, you know, everybody says is so wonderful, she wouldn't hang my picture in the embassy, OK? She's in charge of the embassy. She wouldn't hang it."
What evidence did Trump offer up to back up his claim that Yovanovitch refused to hang his picture at the US embassy in Ukraine? Oh, none. And, as far as I can tell, there is no evidence. Period.
38. "This was not an angel, this woman, OK? And there are a lot of things that she did that I didn't like and we will talk about that at some time."
If you really think "we will talk about that at some time," you haven't been paying attention.
39. "Every once in a while you meet a new star. I know a lot about stardom. I know a lot about it. I've made plenty of them."
"I know a lot about stardom." -- The President of the United States
40. "Her way -- you know, you can never define exactly what it is, you understand that. You're a star, OK? Why? Who the hell knows, but you're a star. There aren't many of them. But what happens is, she has become a star."
Trump on New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. Also, Trump on the intangible qualities of stardom. Truly mesmerizing stuff.
41. "Oh, I would -- look, number one, they should never, ever impeach. This is not impeach -- I watched, I watched five people on your network yesterday say there's nothing here."
Well, if five people on Fox News said it, then...
42. "I mean Adam Schiff is -- is a nut job."
43. "I know exactly who it is. Everybody does."
Trump claims here that everyone knows who the original whistleblower is. That's simply untrue.
44. "That is why a lot of people think Schiff is basically is essentially the whistleblower. He told the whistleblower what to do."
First of all, the idea that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is actually the whistleblower isn't even something dedicated conspiracy theorists believe. Second, Schiff has never met the whistleblower. The whistleblower talked to someone on Schiff's staff before filing the official complaint.
45. "Why did Shifty Schiff, a crooked politician, a corrupt politician. Why did he make up my statement?"
[narrator voice] He didn't.
46. "I have to deal with crazy Nancy. She is crazy as a bedbug. She is nuts."
In which the President of the United States repeatedly questions the mental wellness of the Speaker of the House, with no evidence to back up his wild claims. (Also: Bedbugs aren't crazy. They're survivors who can last months without food.)
47. "You don't need verification. You know exactly who it is."
In which the "Fox & Friends" hosts say they don't know who the whistleblower is, and the President of the United States utters this phrase about his or her identity: "You don't need verification." Sure! Normal! Very cool and very legal!
48. "We have loopholes, they are called loopholes for a reason because they are loopholes."
[nods head slowly]
49. "I don't know if Joe can make it mentally. He is off, there is no question about it. So, I don't know if he's going to make it mentally. If he can get through it without cracking up, which is a real question, many people have asked it."
If you are counting, former Vice President Joe Biden is the third Democrat in the course of this interview that Trump has suggested is mentally ill with no proof for such an outrageous claim.
50. "Pete, I call him Alfred E. Neuman. It reminds me of Mad magazine Alfred E. Neuman."
Really putting the "bully" in "bully pulpit" here.
51. "If it weren't for me Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes."
52. "Well I'll tell you we have to stand with Hong Kong but I'm also standing with President Xi."
I stand with the Yankees. I also stand with the Red Sox.
53. "Kellyanne is great. She is married to a total whack job. She must have done number on him. I don't know what Kellyanne did to that guy."
Just to follow Trump's logic here on the Conways: Kellyanne Conway, a White House senior counselor, did a "number" on her husband, George Conway, which is why George is now so critical of Trump. Which suggests Kellyanne is ultimately responsible? Or something?
54. "Mike Pence, I've seen this rumor that keeps popping up. Nikki would be great but Mike Pence has done a phenomenal job as our vice president. He is our guy, he is my friend."
To knock down rumors that Trump is thinking of replacing Pence with former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on the 2020 ticket, Trump says that "she would be great" but Pence is "our guy." Got it!
55. "If he thought that there was a chance of losing that seat, I think he would do that."
So, Mike Pompeo is running for the Senate then. That's news!
56. "Well a lot of things are the matter with me."
57. "The doctor, said, sir, I'm not blaming him, would you like to go in knock off half of your physical? I said you know what, that is not a bad idea."
Odd that "half" of Trump's annual physical would come in an unscheduled and unannounced visit to Walter Reed.
58. "We had the best year we ever had by far."
Ever? In the history of the country? [head explodes] Yeah, this feels like a good place to end.