In his latest interview with the New York Times [July 19, 2017], Donald Trump did what he always does: He rambled, flitted from topic to topic—sometimes in mid-sentence– garbled his words, talked about things for which he has limited knowledge, bragged, lied, got the facts wrong, strayed far afield from the topic at hand–and generally spewed strings of words that followed no logical sequence. Reading through the transcript of the interview, I tried to imagine what the New York Times reporters were thinking as they listened. My conclusion is that they had to tune in very closely to extrapolate what Trump was attempting to say.
So, when I watched MSNBC last night and saw New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt discussing the interview, I was surprised at how coherent he made Trump’s comments sound. Clearly, Schmidt was interpreting what Trump said, not quoting him directly. I fear that reporters have become so accustomed to mentally editing Trump’s word salads that they don’t even know they are doing it. To his credit, Schmidt does say, “It is difficult sometimes with the President because he speaks very quickly and says a lot of things and the conversation can meander.” But most of the of his report makes it sound as though Trump actually expressed coherent opinions.
It is always misguided to normalize Trump. His actual words are important—they reveal his way of “thinking,” and that is a scary thing to observe. Reporters who describe his “ideas” and “thoughts” as though they have been clearly expressed are doing Trump too much of a favor.
As with all the other transcripts that I have shared here, I highly recommend that you read the whole thing [although what the New York Times has released is an edited, excerpted version.]
If you don’t want to do that, here’s some of what Michael Schmidt said on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” on July 19, 2017, coupled with Trump’s actual words.
What Schmidt said:
He is clearly disappointed in Sessions…
What Trump actually said, and the tone in which he said it, says a lot more than he was “disappointed:”
Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.
Q: He gave you no heads up at all, in any sense?
Trump: Zero. So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. Then I have—which frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president. So he recuses himself,. I then end up with a second man, who’s a deputy.
…Yeah, what Jeff Sessions did was he recused himself right after, right after he became attorney general. And I said, “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” I would have –then I said, “who’s your deputy?” So he deputy he hardly kew, and that’s Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any. So, he’s from Baltimore.”
How Schmidt characterized Trump’s thoughts on special counsel Robert Mueller:
Trump is clearly upset about the fact that Mueller has been appointed and that he is looking at these different issues and that Mueller has the ability to take his investigation where he may.
…He wouldn’t commit to firing Mueller, but he did say there is a red line. He didn’t define what he meant as a violation. But he clearly sees Muller’s purview as looking into Russia…
What Trump actually said:
Q: If Muller was looking at your finances and your family finances unrelated to Russia—is that a red line?
I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t—I don’t—I mean, it’s possible that there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make—from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t. I don’t do that…
…Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company. Ad actually, when I do my filings, people say, “Man.” People have no idea how successful this is. It’s a great company. But I don’t even think about the company any more. I think about this. ‘Cause one thing, when you do this, companies seem very trivial, OK? I really mean that. They seem very trivial. But I have no income from Russia. I don’t do business with Russia. The gentleman that you mentioned, with his son two nice people. But basically, they brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia to open up, you know, one of their jobs. Perhaps the convention center where it was held. It was a nice evening, and I left. I left, you know, I left Moscow. It wasn’t Moscow, it was outside of Moscow.
Q: Would you fire Mueller if we went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is?
Trump: I can’t. I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Like all reporters, Schmidt was looking for the nugget, the money quote, a good lead for a story. So the New York Times led with the Sessions quotes. When you read, or listen to the transcript, there’s a lot more: Much unsolicited ado about Hillary, a lengthy riff on the wonderful Bastille Day celebration, something about Andrew McCabe’s wife getting money, Nixon, and more.
Here’s a section in which Trump tries to explain away the infamous meeting his son had at Trump Tower in June 2016. One reporter asked him what he thought about the email that triggered the meeting:
Well, I thought originally it might have something to do with the payment by Russia of the DNC, or the Democrats. Somewhere I heard that. Like, it was an illegal act done by the DNC or the Democrats. That’s what I had heard. Now, I don’t know where I heard it, but I had heard that it had to do something with illegal acts with respect to the DNC Now, you, know, when you look at the kind of stuff that came out, that, was, that was some pretty horrific things came out of that. But that’s what I had heard. But I don’t know what it means. All I know is this: When somebody calls up and they says, “We have infor—“ Look, what they did to me with Russia, and it was totally phony stuff.”
Unfortunately, we are all becoming inured to Trump’s stream of semi-consciousness, fill-the-vacuum uninformed incoherence. But his inability to make sense when he speaks is a story in itself, and we must not let Trump-scandal fatigue allow this to go un-noted, or characterized as business as usual. We ignore it, normalize it, and accept it as “that’s just Trump” at our own peril.