Lesley Stahl on what it's like to interview President Trump

Lesley Stahl talks about sparring with the president and the changes she's seen in Donald Trump over the course of three interviews

Lesley Stahl has been interviewing presidents since 1972 when, as a young CBS News Washington correspondent, she was able to shout one question at President Nixon. Since then, she has become one of the most experienced presidential interrogators in broadcast journalism.

This week's 60 Minutes interview with President Trump marks her third interview with him since his nomination at the Republican National Convention in 2016.

In this 60 Minutes Overtime Correspondent Candid, Stahl reflects on some of the challenges of the presidential interview, including how to keep an interviewee on track and avoid a presidential filibuster.  For all his complaints about the news media, Stahl observes, during her conversation with Mr. Trump, "He enjoyed the sparring."

The video above was produced by Lisa Orlando and L. Franklin Devine. Below is a transcript.


FRANK DEVINE: Lesley, you've interviewed President Trump three times, as a candidate, as president-elect, and now as president. Has the office changed him any way?

LESLEY STAHL: Well, in terms of the three interviews, he was completely different today. The-- the one that really stood out was the one three days after he won the election.

Trump sits down at beginning of interview, off-mic,

"It's been a wild ride, I'll tell you that…"

LESLEY STAHL: Where it was my impression-- that he was in total shock. Right now, he's-- he's so much more confident.  He is truly president. And you felt it. I felt it in this interview.

FRANK DEVINE: Do you think you ever asked any questions that got under his skin, where you saw him get a little irritable (LAUGH) or snap back at you?

LESLEY STAHL: I think it was more when I would try to bring him back to the question I asked. And that got on his nerves a little bit.

LESLEY STAHL: I'm gonna try one more time. Okay.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I know-- and, Lesley, you don't have to try again. I know exactly what you're saying--

LESLEY STAHL: So answer my question.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The answer is this.

FRANK DEVINE: At times, he seemed to be trying to filibuster you.

LESLEY STAHL: Well, you know something? He-- he was tryin' to filibuster me. But I have never interviewed a politician, ever, that didn't try to filibuster me.

LESLEY STAHL: --do you believe that the Russians interfered in the 2016 campaign --

election? Our election--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They-- they meddled. But I think China meddled too.

LESLEY STAHL: Well, why do you--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I think other countries--

LESLEY STAHL: --think China meddled too?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you wanna know something?

LESLEY STAHL: Why do you say Chi-- why don't you just say--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, let me ask you--

LESLEY STAHL: --the Russians meddled?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Because I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China--

LESLEY STAHL: This is amazing

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --is a bigger problem.

LESLEY STAHL: You're t-- diverting the whole Russian thing.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm not doing anything.

LESLEY STAHL:  You are, you are.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm saying Russia…

FRANK DEVINE: When you were walking to the Oval Office, // you tried to press him on whether he'd pledge not to fire Robert Mueller.

LESLEY STAHL: Yeah.

LESLEY STAHL: Will you pledge-- pledge that you will not shut down the Mueller investigation?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I-- I don't pledge anything.

LESLEY STAHL: Man, he didn't wanna answer that. He didn't wanna pledge. He said, "I'm not gonna pledge on '60 Minutes.'"

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't wanna pledge. Why should I pledge to you? If I pledge, I'll pledge. I don't have to pledge to you. But I have-

LESLEY STAHL: Well--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --no intention of that.

LESLEY STAHL: --you're not pledging to me.

LESLEY STAHL: Yeah, he didn't like that one either. But you know something? He-- he enjoyed the sparring. He said so. And I could tell he enjoyed it.

LESLEY STAHL: I-- I disagree, but I don't wanna have that fight with you.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hey, it's okay--

LESLEY STAHL: All right, I'll get in another fight with you--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Lesley, it's okay. In the meantime, I'm president--

LESLEY STAHL: And we're having--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --and you're not.

LESLEY STAHL: --fun, right? And-- oh, for sure.

FRANK DEVINE: He was very restrained with you--

LESLEY STAHL: Oh, I got--

FRANK DEVINE: --and, his media question--

LESLEY STAHL: I got my share of, "Fake news." I got-- I wouldn't say he was restrained. He-- he came at fake news quite a few times.

LESLEY STAHL: You have said that this administration is like a smooth running machine. And yet, we keep hearing that the White House is in chaos.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's-- well, it's so false. It's fake news.

FRANK DEVINE: There was a point where he was being so complimentary to you that you accused him of softening you up.

LESLEY STAHL: I (LAUGH)-- I think he was tryin' to soften me up.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm on 60 Minutes, great show. My first interview with Mike Wallace, right?

LESLEY STAHL: Right.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And it was such a great interview, he was so nice. He was only nice to me, he wasn't nice to other people, many years ago. And here I am again, 60 Minutes with Lesley Stahl, even bigger than Mike Wallace. (LAUGH)  Do you consider yourself bigger than Mike Wallace?

LESLEY STAHL: Tryin' to soften me up here.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Okay

LESLEY STAHL: You know, when you interview anybody, you-- you know it's a performance. You're on camera. The lights are on you. He's very aware of-- of being a performer.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Do you really think I'd call Russia to help me with an election? Give me a break.

LESLEY STAHL: And so, I think he's always conscious that this is gonna be seen by everybody, but so am I.

LESLEY STAHL: Oh, look at your desk.

LESLEY STAHL: So as the interviewer. And so, yeah, you're tryin' to set up a good-- chemistry between you; both sides.

FRANK DEVINE: Why do you think President Trump decided on an interview with you now, at this particular time?

LESLEY STAHL: I think he's trying to win the midterm election for the Republicans. And I think he believes, and I know his people believe, the more he's out there, publicly-- the stronger the chances are for the Republicans. And the better for him. And-- I think the White House has come to believe it's a mistake to try to restrain him, to keep him off television, to keep him away from these rallies. And he loves doing it. He really-- he-- he gets a lot of energy from crowds. And-- and I think he gets a lot of energy wrestling the way he did with me.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I'm having fun. I mean, I had fun. I like doing this. I don't know why.