Donald Trump’s phone interview on Fox & Friends this morning was like a burst transmission from deep space. There was lots of information there, but we’ll need to slow it down and run it through filtering computers before we can make sense of it.
Here’s a look at some of the key lines from the president’s seemingly stream-of-consciousness conversations with the presenters of his favourite morning news programme.
„I would give myself an A-plus. Nobody has done what I’ve been able to do, and I did it despite the fact that I have a phoney cloud over my head that doesn’t exist.”
This was the president’s response to what should have been the softest of softball questions. How would you grade your presidency?
A standard response would have been to list some accomplishments – passing tax reform, cutting regulations, defeating the so-called Islamic State, appointing conservative judges. It’s not like the president hasn’t ticked off lists like this in the past.
Instead, Mr Trump veered immediately toward the witch hunt, the fix, the „phoney cloud” that he says is hanging over his presidency in the form of the ongoing investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Russia.
It’s a telling window into the president’s state of mind more than a year into his term – he views himself as embattled, beset upon by „deep state” enemies and Democrats bitter about his 2016 victory.
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„Michael would represent me on some things, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, and from what I can see he did nothing wrong.”
That sound you heard was defence attorneys for Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, banging their heads into their desks.
The president had previously denied having any knowledge of Mr Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film actress Daniels on the eve of the 2016 to secure her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr Trump. These comments cast that in doubt.
The president also distanced himself from Mr Cohen, who is currently under federal investigation for possible campaign finance law violations in the Daniels matter as well as personal business activities, saying Mr Cohen did only a „tiny, tiny fraction” of Mr Trump’s legal work and that his business activities don’t have „anything to do with” the president.
The trouble for Mr Cohen, and the president, is that lawyers for both men are arguing that documents seized by federal investigators in a recent raid on Mr Cohen’s office and home are covered under attorney-client privilege.
It took just over an hour for government lawyers to cite Mr Trump’s statements on Fox as evidence that the material uncovered in the search is „unlikely to contain voluminous privileged documents” in a court filing.
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing Daniels in a civil lawsuit to get out from her non-disclosure agreement, was practically dancing a jig on Twitter Thursday morning.
„Mr Trump and Mr Cohen previously represented to the American people that Mr Cohen acted on his own and Mr Trump knew nothing about the agreement with my client, the $130k payment, etc.,” he wrote. „As I predicted, that has now been shown to be completely false.”
„Because of the fact that they have this witch hunt going on with people in the Justice Department that shouldn’t be there, they have a witch hunt against the president of the United States going on, I’ve taken the position – and I don’t have to take this position, and maybe I’ll change – that I will not be involved with the Justice Department.”
Traditionally, the Justice Department has operated with a relative degree of independence from the president so that any investigation conducted by its attorneys will not appear to be tainted by political concerns.
Mr Trump isn’t always big on tradition. He’s repeatedly criticised Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into the Russia matter.
Up until now, at least, the president has not followed his words with action – but his most recent comments, that he may „be involved” in Justice Department matters, will rekindle concerns that he could fire top Justice Department officials or, perhaps, Mr Mueller himself.
Shortly after Mr Trump’s Thursday morning comments, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would offer Mr Mueller some legal protection from presidential meddling.
Although it still seems unlikely that the bill will receive full votes from the Senate and House of Representatives, let alone be signed into law by Mr Trump, the fact that three Republicans on the committee voted in favour could indicate growing concern about the president’s state of mind among congressional Republicans.
„We’re doing very well with North Korea. We’ll see how it all works out.”
Mr Trump made a bit of news when talking about his proposed upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying that the meeting has been narrowed down to „three or four” dates and five locations.
The White House had earlier indicated the meeting would happen by July.
The president also took swipes at the media’s coverage of his North Korean policy – media bashing was a recurring theme of his 30-minute interview – saying that Mr Kim has made numerous concessions on his nuclear programme, while the US hasn’t „given up anything”. He said he’d be willing to walk out „quickly” or not meet at all if he didn’t like how things were going.
He also referenced his „little rocket man” nickname for the North Korean leader, as well as his tweet comparing the size of their respective nuclear „buttons”.
„When I came into office people thought we were going into nuclear war,” the president added. „Now they’re saying, wow, it looks like that’s going to be taken care of.”
Donald Trump the dealmaker sees North Korea, potentially, as his greatest foreign policy success – the solution to a vexing problem his predecessors were unable to solve. If Mr Trump finds a path from „fire and fury” to a permanent solution, it will certainly be a testament to his unorthodox, to say the least, style of diplomacy.