Donald Trump on CBS News’s 60 Minutes, October 14, 2018

In his first interview with an outlet other than Fox TV in 17 months, Donald Trump has played down any involvement of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in assassinations, as “it’s not in our country”.

Interviewer Lesley Stahl pressed Trump, “People don’t understand why you never have a harsh word for Vladimir Putin.”

Trump tried to portray himself as firm against Russian operations in Eastern Europe — while ignoring Putin’s annexation of Crimea — “I’m the one that gave Ukraine offensive weapons and tank killers. Obama didn’t. You know what he sent? He sent pillows and blankets.”

But he then faced Stahl’s follow-up, “Do you agree that Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations? In poisonings?”

Trump: Probably he is, yeah. Probably. I mean, I don’t —

Stahl: Probably?

Trump: But I rely on them, it’s not in our country.

Putin has allegedly been involved in the assassinations of his rivals, of dissidents, and of Russian journalists. He also faces pressure over operations abroad, such as the nerve agent attack in southern England in March, targeting former spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Trump minimized any Russian interference in the 2016 election on his behalf, repeating several times, “I think China meddled too.”

Challenged by Stahl, “You are diverting the whole Russia thing,” Trump replied, “I’m saying Russia, but I’m also saying China.”

Asked to pledge that he will not shut down the Trump-Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump said, “I don’t pledge anything.”

He continued, “I have no intention of doing that” but immediately invoked his mantra, “It’s a very unfair investigation because there was no collusion of any kind.” He concluded:

Do you really think I’d call Russia to help me with an election? Give me a break. They wouldn’t be able to help me at all. Call Russia. It’s so ridiculous.

Trump v. Climate Change

Elsewhere in the interview, Trump:

*Denied human-based climate change: “I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade.”

He said that, by accepting climate change, he would be giving away “trillions and trillions of dollars” and “millions and millions of jobs”.

Asked about the scientific consensus over climate change — amid last week’s UN report warning of destruction within the next generation if a 1.5-degree Fahrenheit temperature rise is reached and exceeded — Trump said, “You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda.”

*Said he trusted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and falsely claimed, “The day before I came in, we were goin’ to war with North Korea.”

*Said “I have a great chemistry also with President Xi of China”, even as Trump defended large tariffs against Beijing and other countries

*Assailed US allies in Europe “Nobody treats us much worse than the European Union. The European Union was formed in order to take advantage of us on trade, and that’s what they’ve done….We shouldn’t be paying almost the entire cost of NATO to protect Europe. And then on top of that, they take advantage of us on trade.”

Trump challenged Stahl’s observation that the alliance has “kept the peace for 70 years”: “You don’t know that.”

*Struggled to name a mistake he had made before saying, “I could have been — earlier with terminating the NAFTA deal” with Mexico and China. (In fact, the North American Free Trade Agreement was not terminated last month, but revised and given the new label “US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement”.

*Falsely said his “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which separated children from their undocumented immigrant parents, was “the same as the Obama law” — and avoids the report that his Administration is considering indefinite detention of immigrant families who are seized at the US-Mexico border.

TrumpWatch, Day 631: White House Again Considering Separation of Immigrant Children from Parents

*Justifies his mocking of Professor Christine Blasey Ford, the first of three women accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault: “Had I not made that speech, we would not have won [with Kavanaugh’s confirmation].”

Trump insisted he had treated Ford with respect but cut off Stahl’s observation that he had accused the professor of lying: “I’m not gonna get into it because we won. It doesn’t matter. We won.”

*Says reports of a disfunctional White House are wrong but “I have some people that I’m not thrilled with. And I have other people that I’m beyond thrilled with.”