A defiant former President Donald Trump sparred with new "Meet the Press" moderator Kristen Welker for more than an hour this week at his Bedminster, New Jersey, estate, battling over his array of legal issues and his role in the Jan. 6 attack, all while continuing to promote falsehoods about the 2020 election.
He also, time and time again, sought to give himself wiggle room on critical issues: abortion, the war in Ukraine, interest rates and even what he thought of his party's efforts to impeach President Joe Biden.
In totality, Trump's interview with NBC News highlighted the duality of the candidate who is the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination and challenge the Democrats next fall: On one hand, he is carving out a policy-messaging lane fit for the general election, while on the other, he is as combative as ever about the charges he faces and his role in lessening the trust Americans have not only in their bedrock institutions but in democracy itself.
NBC News has also extended an invitation to Biden to sit down with Welker for an interview.
Here are 11 of the most newsworthy moments of the extensive Trump interview:
Trump tells his party to drop pushing abortion bans with no exceptions
Trump said members of his own party “speak very inarticulately” about abortion, and he criticized those who push for abortion bans without exceptions in cases of rape and incest, and to protect the health of the mother.
“I watch some of them without the exceptions, et cetera, et cetera,” he said. “I said, ‘Other than certain parts of the country, you can’t — you’re not going to win on this issue. But you will win on this issue when you come up with the right number of weeks.”
While Trump passed on the chance to clarify what kind of legislation he would sign to ban abortion after a certain number of weeks — or if he prefers the issue be solved at the federal level rather than on a state-by-state basis — he repeatedly sought to portray himself as a dealmaker who could unite "both sides" and put the issue to rest.
“We’re going to agree to a number of weeks or months or however you want to define it,” Trump said. “And both sides are going to come together and both sides — both sides, and this is a big statement — both sides will come together. And for the first time in 52 years, you’ll have an issue that we can put behind us.”
Trump would have difficulty positioning himself as a broker trusted by "both sides," since his three conservative Supreme Court nominees helped to overturn abortion rights.
His lack of clarity on what he would support was a focal point of the interview. The remarks, of course, come as Republicans have suffered numerous key losses at the ballot box since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had made abortion legal in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, in June 2022.
At one point, Welker asked whether such an agreement Trump pitched would result in federal legislation.
“It could be state or it could be federal,” Trump said. “I don’t, frankly, care.”
Trump says he is not afraid of going to prison
Despite facing four trials, Trump told Welker that he's not consumed with visions of prison.
“I don’t even think about it,” Trump said. “I’m built a little differently I guess, because I have had people come up to me and say, ‘How do you do it, sir? How do you do it?’ I don’t even think about it.”
But he also came back to the question on his own accord later in the interview, suggesting it stuck with him.
“When you say, do I lose sleep? I sleep,” he said. “I sleep. Because I truly feel that, in the end, we’re going to win.”
Trump says he likes democracy, just not how the U.S. system currently works
One of Welker's final questions centered on whether Trump — who has spent three years trying to overturn or delegitimize the 2020 election he lost — still believes democracy "is the most effective form of government."
Trump said he still does — but added a key caveat.
"I do. I do. But it has to be a democracy that’s fair," he said. "This democracy — I don’t consider us to have much of a democracy right now."
He suggested U.S. democracy was unfair because of the indictments he currently faces for allegedly mishandling classified documents, attempting to conceal hush money payments to women ahead of an election and trying to overturn the 2020 election. But he also said it's not fair because of tough questions from the news media, asking Welker why she was "fighting me" on some answers.
"People understand what’s going on," he said. "We need a media that’s free and fair. And frankly, if they don’t have that, it’s very, very hard to straighten out our country."
Welker pivoted to an effort Trump and other Republicans have embraced that would make it easier to fire career civil servants in the government perceived as disloyal.
But Trump — whose campaign has promoted such efforts — said he would not enact broad firings of federal workers.
"No, I wouldn’t do that," he said. "I want great people, whether they’re Republican or Democrat. I want great people. But I want people that love our country, not people that hate our country."
Trump doesn't rule out pardoning himself if elected but says it's 'very unlikely'
Trump chose not to pre-emptively pardon himself before exiting office in January 2021. But when Welker asked if he might grant himself a reprieve if he wins this election, Trump declined to rule it out.
“I think it’s very unlikely. What, what did I do wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong,” Trump said. “You mean because I challenge an election, they want to put me in jail?”
He also discussed being advised on both sides of the question in 2021, just before he left office, and recalled giving a decisive response: “Let me just tell you. I said, ‘The last thing I’d ever do is give myself a pardon.’”
While Trump could have shielded himself from federal criminal prosecution on his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in his final days in office, he has also been charged with illegally retaining and hiding classified documents following his presidency — based on acts that occurred after he lost the pardon power.
If he wins back the White House, he would be in a position to pardon himself on all of the federal charges he faces.
Trump says he ignored legal advice from attorneys who told him the election wasn't stolen
Trump delved deep into his decision to press to overturn the 2020 election and took responsibility for it.
"We have many people, and it's my choice," he told Welker, later adding, "It was my decision. But I listened to some people."
Top administration and campaign lawyers told Trump he had lost the election, and that there was no evidence of fraud. But there were outside attorneys — including several who face legal jeopardy themselves — who helped Trump not only contest the election but collect slates of fake electors in order to upend the electoral vote count in Congress.
He said he didn't listen to White House and campaign attorneys "because I didn't respect them as lawyers." He said those lawyers "turn out to be RINOs [Republicans in name only], or they turn out to be not so good, in many cases."
The key to gaining his respect, he suggested, was to agree with the fabricated claim that he was cheated out of a second term.
"But I did respect others," Trump said. "I respected many others that said the election was rigged.”
At one point, Trump noted how close the election was in terms of the number of votes he would have needed, spread across several states, to win the Electoral College.
“Are you acknowledging you didn’t win?” Welker asked.
“I’m not acknowledging,” he said. “No. I say I won the election.”
Trump links his call for 'retribution' to Jan. 6
Trump faced a series of questions over a comment he made earlier this year, telling a supportive crowd, "I am your retribution." Asked what it means, Trump talked of having "to protect people," adding that he views the prison sentences given to some Jan. 6 rioters as unfair when compared with the punishments given to those who participated in racial justice protests during the summer of 2020.
"When I talk about retribution, I'm talking about fairness," he said. "We have to treat people fairly. These people on Jan. 6, they went — some of them never even went into the building, and they're being given sentences of, you know, many years."
Welker followed up with Trump to ask if he will pardon the imprisoned rioters.
"Well, I'm going to look at them, and I certainly might if I think it's appropriate," he said. "No, it's a very, very sad thing. And it’s – they're dividing the country so badly, and it's very dangerous."
Trump says he had nothing to do with Republicans' effort to impeach Biden
Trump offered a simple "no, not at all" when asked if he viewed GOP efforts to impeach Biden as part of his "retribution" agenda. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., this week announced the launch of an impeachment inquiry.
The former president also denied that he spoke with McCarthy about impeachment.
No, no," he said. "I don’t talk to him like that."
Trump added that McCarthy "wouldn't" launch an inquiry "based on me."
Later, he said he did not "have to talk" to allies on Capitol Hill about supporting an inquiry because "they're more proactive than I am."
Trump says he liked Putin's recent comments about him but is vague on his plan to end the war in Ukraine
Trump said he could not explain in detail how he would pursue the end of the war between Russia and Ukraine because "if I tell you exactly, I lose all my bargaining chips.
"But I would say certain things to Putin," he said. "I would say certain things to Zelenskyy, both of whom I get along."
Asked if he would push for a deal that allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep Ukrainian territory, Trump said, "no, no, no, no."
"I’d make a fair deal for everybody," he said. "Nope, I’d make it fair."
He then expressed appreciation for a remark Putin made recently. The Russian president said: "We surely hear that Mr. Trump says he will resolve all burning issues within several days, including the Ukrainian crisis. We cannot help but feel happy about it."
In response, Trump said: "Well, I like that he said that.
"Because that means what I’m saying is right. I would get him into a room. I’d get Zelenskyy into a room. Then I’d bring them together. And I’d have a deal worked out. I would get a deal worked out. It would’ve been a lot easier before it started."
Trump has long declined to overly criticize Putin, at times outright praising him.
When Russia first invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Trump said Putin was “a guy who is very savvy” and called the invasion of Ukraine "genius."
Trump says he won't seek a third term should he win next fall
Pointing to remarks from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in which Trump's GOP rival promoted his ability to serve two full terms rather than one, Welker asked Trump point blank if there was any scenario in which he would seek a third term should he win next fall.
"No," Trump said, before criticizing DeSantis.
The 22nd Amendment of the Constitution limits presidents to two four-year terms. That was enacted after former President Franklin Roosevelt was elected to four terms in office.
To shut down or not?
Trump said Republican hard-liners in the House should not back down on their demands in order to avoid a government shutdown like the record-long stoppage he forced in late 2018 and early 2019.
But he left ample conditional wiggle room.
"I'd shut down the government if they can't make an appropriate deal, absolutely," he said.
Trump won't say how he'd protect Taiwan
Not only did Trump refuse to get into detail on how he'd handle the war in Ukraine, he was also vague on the issue of China eyeing Taiwan.
He dodged the specifics of whether he would commit U.S. forces to defend Taiwan against China, a move Biden has said he would make.
"I won’t say. I won’t say," Trump said. "Because if I said, I’m giving away — you know, only stupid people are going to give that."
But he also said the option remains open.
"I don’t take anything off the table," he said.
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