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Transcript: Trump on masks, reopening schools, race and pardoning Roger Stone

Exclusive: Trump defends COVID response
Trump talks coronavirus and policing in exclusive interview 04:18

The following is a transcript of an interview with President Trump by CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge at the White House on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: President Trump, thank you for speaking with CBS News. Over the weekend, you went to Walter Reed and you wore a face mask in public for the first time. What message were you sending?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think when you're in a hospital setting and, in the case of, Walter Reed, I went to see the troops that have been very badly injured in some cases. One had just come out of an operation. And I think I really have that obligation to do that.

I was still, you know, quite far away, but I don't want to be far away. I want to hug 'em because  they're really great heroes, amazing heroes. So I went,  and then I also met with some of the people worked on, whether we want to call it COVID or the China virus, but they worked on it and very successfully, a lot of the doctors, and also. And I did put on a face mask. I have no, you know, I've had 'em on before, too. I have no problem with that.

But in private, not public.

Well you have to understand, I'm probably the most tested person in the world and I can guarantee the people that come see me are all tested. No matter who they are, they're all tested.

I understand that. The surgeon general told CBS News that if we could get a critical mass of Americans to wear face coverings in the next two to three weeks, we could really turn this around, crush the spike in cases that we've seen. Will you tell the American people to wear a face mask?

Well, I'd say listen to that instruction, listen to your governors, but I have to say the same people that say wear a mask are people that said, a long time ago, don't wear a mask, masks are bad. 

They said they're not good. So, you know, like Dr. Fauci, surgeon general, a lot of people — a lot of people — the surgeon general said that also. 

But the surgeon general said on the weekend that they were trying to really, you know, we've learned from the science. 

Well, that's okay. That's okay. And I don't mind if people change their mind. I'm not holding it against Fauci or him or anybody else. I'm just saying that I've heard, you know, we started off with, "Don't wear a mask." Then we come to, "Wear a mask." Now, in my case, I come into contact with nobody.

If I go up to, on a stage, like for instance, I watched Biden go up. He's got the largest mask I've ever seen. And he goes up on a stage to speak and there's no one near him. There's nobody near him and you can't understand him anyway, so you know, so it doesn't matter that much. But he feels very comfortable having a mask. I think he'd leave it on full time.

Right. Wearing a mask is a public health issue. Why has it become such a political issue?

It is a political issue for a lot of people. It's not a political issue for me. I would wear it, if I'm in contact with people, if I'm close to people. And I have worn it before. You saw that, I think I was in Detroit. It was in numerous locations. I have had 'em on before, but —

Your thinking on masks has evolved. You've learned more about it. You feel that

Not evolved. No, I'm okay from the beginning. I think if I'm in a hospital and if I see doctors and I see patients and I'm near patients, especially even from protecting a patient from me. I view it almost as important, maybe more important in a lot of ways. People don't think of it that way. They think, protect the, you know, the president. I really say protect these incredible soldiers who have just been through massive operations that you don't even want to think about. And I want to protect the soldiers.

If I can just jump in a bit. If it's about personal responsibility, will you tell Americans to wear a mask so that we can crush the spike in cases?

I would have no problem with that, but what I really do is, I will say follow the guidelines because the guidelines say exactly that. The guidelines didn't used to say that. And by the way, governors didn't used to say that. You know, we're running a really amazing operation.

If we would have not done what we did originally, we would have lost — we would have been up to millions of lives already. Lives lost. We've done it right, but now what happens is governors can take — and the governors can — you know, they can demand that because this is federalist. Governors can demand that. And some of the governors do.

So you believe the responsibility rests with the governors on face masks? 

Well, yeah, and they also, they also may go by guidelines and they can have their own guidelines, but they go by the CDC guidelines. And right now that's saying wear a mask, and that's okay with me. That's good. Those guidelines are good. I'm not stopping them from saying it. I do say this, originally people were saying don't wear a mask.

People that we all respect were saying don't wear a mask because, look, you know, it's got certain drawbacks and they say don't wear a mask. Now they're saying wear a mask. I'm okay. And it does evolve. You know, I mean, the thought process evolves. So let's see what happens, but I think we've made tremendous progress.

Would you urge Americans to wear a mask right now?

If it's necessary, I would urge them to wear a mask. And I would say follow the guidelines.

Okay. Let's talk about testing. Back in March, you said every American who wants a test will get a test, but one of the major labs in the U.S. announced today that the average wait time for a result is about seven days. So is the national testing strategy working?

Working? We have 45 million tests as of, I think, today, approximately 45 million tests. No other country tests like us. In fact, I could say it's working too much. It's working too well. We're doing testing and we're finding thousands and thousands of cases. If it's a young guy who's got sniffles, who's you know 10 years old, gets tested, all of a sudden he's a case and he's gonna be better tomorrow because with young people —

But seven days, a seven-day waiting period is a long period of time.


Is that acceptable?

But you don't say the fact that we've tested 45 million people, and no other country has tested even a tiny fraction of that. We're doing testing like nobody else has ever done it. And we have all types of tests. You have tests where you send it away and you have tests where they can do it right there. We have, at the White House and at other places, a five-minute test. It takes five minutes. We have many different tests.

What can you do to speed up the testing result time?

There are different kinds of tests. There are tests that are very good, very strong, where you send it to a laboratory. The laboratory does the test and they send it back. That's one test —

Can you make a new push right now to fast-track those tests?

Well, we can. We can do that, but people understand when you take a test and it gets sent to a lab and then it gets sent back, and it comes back within seven days, it's going through a process. It goes through a mailing process which is, you know, it's one of those things. The best thing we can do is, we're doing more and more of 'em, is onsite testing. So you can wait a half an hour or you can wait in some cases, like in Abbott, you can wait five minutes for the test result.

Will you push for more onsite testing?

I like it the best. I mean, I like it the best. It might not be as accurate, by the way, but I like it the best.

What will you do to make onsite testing more available to Americans?

Well, let me just tell you about the testing deal. So, we're doing more testing than anybody in the world. We have the best tests. We have the best scientists. We have the best tests of any country in the world. We have more tests than any country. If Germany, as an example, did what we were doing, if any country did what we were doing, the number of cases would be through the roof. So we do these testing,  so we have thousands and thousands of cases. Other countries, you know when they do the test? When somebody walks into a hospital and they're sick.

They walk into a hospital and they're sick. 

I just want to interject, because I think a lot of Americans want to hear that onsite testing will be fast-tracked by you. How would you do that?

Well, it is being fast-tracked. Many people, I mean, you're bringing up one example, but many people are saying, "We can't believe how fast it's working." And again, no country in the entire world is doing what we're doing. We're going out to all areas of this country, in parking lots where cars line up to get tested. Nobody's doing that. They're getting tested at hospitals. They're getting tested at doctors' offices. They're getting tested if they don't feel good. If somebody doesn't feel good, they get, we're testing people that have no symptoms. They feel fine.

Are we doing too much testing?

We're doing testing — I don't say too much because it can lead to a trend and you can find out where it's happening, so I don't say too much. But it's fodder for the fake news media to go after Trump, because we will always show many more cases than other countries that don't do testing. You have countries that don't do testing. Now, President Obama and Joe Biden, they stopped testing. They had a much lesser event. It was a much lesser problem than this, but they stopped. All of a sudden they went cold turkey and they stopped testing. You know why? Because cases were showing up.

You reposted a tweet yesterday saying the CDC and health officials are lying. You understand this is confusing for the public?

No, when I repost a tweet I'm just giving — I didn't make a comment. 

So who do they believe? Like, you or the medical professionals like Dr. Fauci?

I did, I reposted a tweet that a lot of people feel, but all I'm doing is making a comment. I'm just putting somebody's voice out there. There are many voices. There are many people that think we shouldn't do this kind of testing because all we do — it's a trap. 

I watched your network numerous times. I'm one of the few that watch it. But I watched your network numerous times over the last couple of weeks. You keep talking about cases. You don't talk about death. We have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. That means people dying. We have one of the lowest in the world. And it's down, as you know, tenfold. Nobody talks about that. You don't talk about it. Nobody does. All you talk about is cases.

Let's talk about Dan Scavino because he posted a cartoon of Dr. Fauci. And the allegation is that your staff are spending a lot of time attacking one of the premier medical professionals in this country.

No, I like Dr. Fauci. To me, he's a really good guy and a nice guy, but he's made mistakes. He said very strongly — very strongly — "Don't ban China from coming in." That was in January, very early. I did it. I went against his order —

So are you okay with

Excuse me. You have to hear this.

Of course.

So, Dr. Fauci, who again, is a good man, I like him. He said very strongly, "No, no, no, you don't have to ban. Don't ban China." He said, "Don't ban Europe." I banned China. I banned Europe. If I didn't — and then he told me, and I hope he told other people, that hundreds of thousands of lives would have been lost had I not banned them. If I didn't ban China, highly infected, from coming in — we've lost 132,000 lives as of now —

Let's talk about, can we talk about

Excuse me, wait a minute. Hundreds of thousands more lives if I didn't ban China. And by the way, I was the only one that wanted to do it. Months early. Nancy Pelosi, a month later, was talking about there's no problem. She was celebrating on the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco.

Can we, can we

So wait a minute. Dr. Fauci also came out strongly against masks. And then he wants a mask. So I'm not knocking him. I get along with him very well. But he's made some mistakes.

On education, the Los Angeles School District is the latest and one of the largest in the country to say they're not going back to school in the fall.


What do you tell parents and teachers who feel that it's unsafe to go back?

I would tell parents and teachers that you should find yourself a new person, whoever's in charge of that decision, 'cause it's a terrible decision, because children and parents are dying from that trauma, too. They're dying because they can't do what they're doing. Mothers can't go to work because all of a sudden they have to stay home and watch their child, and fathers. What's happening, you know, there's a tremendous strain on that whole side of the equation also.

Trump says school districts are making a "terrible decision" if they don't reopen 01:12

So it's a balancing act.

It is a balancing act, but we have to open our schools. We have learned one thing very strongly. Young people are in great shape when it comes to the coronavirus or whatever you want to call it. Young people are very, very, very much in good shape. And without question, they should open their schools, keep 'em safe, practice distancing, wash your hands.

Do masks if you feel it's necessary in between the children. You gotta do something. Protect the teachers. When it comes to a teacher that's over a certain age, whether it's 55 or 60, you make a determination, they shouldn't come in or they should be very strongly protected —

Okay, so high-risk groups, maybe don't come back to the classroom, okay. You support that.

Of course. Of course, but the children should be — you have to open your schools. It's having a devastating effect on other people. I also say a decision like that is politics because we're starting to do very well in the polls because I'm for law and order, I'm for strong business.

Our jobs are coming back at a record level like never — we've never seen anything like it. Record level. We're heading up. It's turning out to be the V just like, I built it once before, the strongest economy ever. I'm doing it again. And they don't want that to happen because they think —

Who's the they?

They is the Democrats. And the radical left, okay. The Democrats are controlled by the radical left and the media.

You're saying the Democrats don't want the country to succeed.

The Democrats are controlled by the media and the radical left, okay? By you, by the media and the radical left. That's who controls them.

I don't control anyone.

Okay, whatever. But the Democrats are controlled by the media and the radical left, okay? And anybody that says differently is a fool. And they don't want schools open because that's a good thing for our country. That's a good thing. And they figure if they can delay school openings till after November 3rd, they have an advantage in the polls.

I don't think so because Joe Biden has been a failure. Joe Biden, if you look at him, 47 years, all of a sudden today he comes out, he announces that he's a Greenie. That there'll be no petroleum products within a very short period of time. That means Texas is not gonna do oil anymore. That means we're gonna have to close most of our factories and plants. All of a sudden, after 47 years, Joe Biden became a Greenie, a member of the Green Party.

I have a final question on education 'cause that really matters to folks.

Go ahead.

You're a parent and a grandparent. The CDC guidelines call for sanitizing schools, social distancing, the separation of desks. Is that really too much to ask? You said the guidelines were too tough.

No, but some guidelines were extremely tough. They wanted plastic in between every desk. They wanted, you know, plexiglass, which I know, being a builder, I said, "That's gonna cost a fortune." And it's not a very nice setting. But they had plexiglass in between desks. Tremendously, I think it's a — I just don't think it's acceptable. I don't even know if it's doable if you look at it times millions and millions of students. 

So some things I think are just a step too far. But washing hands? Absolutely. Doing all of the things that we're talking about. But when you come to setting up and making dividers in between students out of plexiglass, it would be prohibitively expensive, number one. And it would be I think a bad environment for students.

Is COVID-19 the greatest threat to your reelection?

I don't know. I've done a great job. And now I have to do it again. I was sailing to a win. Sailing. We were sailing right into a win. We had the greatest economy ever for our country and for the world. China had the worst year they've had in 67 years because of what I did to them with tariffs and other things.

And we were sailing to an easy victory. And then all of a sudden, the plague came in from China. And now I'm doing it again. I have to do it all over again, unfortunately. I did the right thing. We closed it. We now understand what we're doing. We're gonna put out those flames in Miami and various places you have flames.

In California, all of a sudden, it flamed out — it flamed up. But here's the thing. I have to do it again. And we are doing it. Record job numbers. Stock market is almost as high now as it was when the plague came in. Think of that. The stock market, everyone thought the stock market was going down to zero.

Actually, Nasdaq is higher. Nasdaq, one of the components, Nasdaq is higher than it was. So when you look at it and when you say — it's amazing. If Joe Biden ever took — you know the biggest problem I have to have the stocks even higher is the possibility that Joe Biden gets elected. That's a huge downward pull on the stock market.

You say that's affecting the stock market right now?

Oh, absolutely. The stock market would be much higher, except for the fact that if he got in, the stock market will crash. You will be in a depression —

You will be in a depression like in 1929 if Joe Biden gets in. He's gonna put back all the regulations. He's gonna triple everybody's taxes. You'll be in a depression the likes of which you've never seen before.

President Trump, back in 2015, you said the Confederate battle flag belongs in a museum. Do you still believe that?

All I say is freedom of speech. It's very simple. My attitude is freedom of speech. Very strong views on the Confederate flag. With me, it's freedom of speech. Very simple. Like it, don't like it. It's freedom of speech.

Would you be comfortable with your supporters displaying the Confederate battle flag at political events?

You know, it depends on what your definition is. But I am comfortable with freedom of speech. It's very simple.

Trump says flying Confederate flag is a "freedom of speech" issue 00:51

But you understand why the flag is a painful symbol for many people because it's a reminder of slavery.

Well, people love it and I don't view, I know people that like the Confederate flag and they're not thinking about slavery. I look at NASCAR, you go to NASCAR, you had those flags all over the place. They stopped it. I just think it's freedom of speech, whether it's Confederate flags or Black Lives Matter or anything else you wanna talk about. It's freedom of speech.

Let's talk about George Floyd. You said George Floyd's death was a terrible thing.


Why are African Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?

And so are White people. So are White people. What a terrible question to ask. So are White people. More White people, by the way. More White people.

Asked why Black Americans are killed by police, Trump responds, "So are White people" 00:19

What will you do to heal the divisions in this country, the racial divisions?

Well, I think what, the biggest thing I can do is success. And that was happening, because we were just about there. We had the best economy ever. We had the best job numbers, best African American numbers, Hispanic American, Asian American, women, everything. The best numbers we've ever had in the history of our country, before China hit us with a plague.

Is phase two of the trade talks with China dead?

I'm not interested right now in talking to China.

So is it on hold? On the backburner?

Look, we made a great trade deal. But as soon as the deal was done, the ink wasn't even dry, and they hit us with the plague, okay? So right now, I'm not interested in talking to China about another deal.

I'm interested in doing other things with China.

And how will you hold the Chinese government accountable for COVID-19?

You'll see. You'll see. It's not for you, it's for me.

But you will hold them accountable?

You'll see.

At the negotiating table?

You'll be watching. You'll be watching. And by the way, Biden, he doesn't have a clue. His son walked out with money to manage, where he makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. And you go to anybody on Wall Street, ask, "Is that possible?" They'll tell you the smartest people on Wall Street couldn't do that. Nobody could do that.

His son walked out with $1.5 billion to manage and he didn't manage. He was unemployed. And then you look at what happened in Ukraine, where his son — remember, where's Hunter? People forget all about that stuff.

If that were ever me, if that were ever me, it would be the biggest scandal in history. With him, or the prosecutor, we're not giving you the $1 billion unless you do this or that. Basically, get his son out of trouble. If that were me, you'd see something.

Okay. I'm getting the wrap up, but I wanted just to get to one last issue, which is important. Roger Stone has said he will campaign for you. Will you allow him to campaign for you?

Free. Roger's free. Look, Roger Stone — and you know this more than anybody, because when you were at Fox, you covered it fairly. Now, you don't cover it quite the same way, unfortunately. But that's okay. Roger Stone was treated terribly by a gang of people that did, in my opinion, a totally illegal act. Russia, Russia, Russia. It was a phony deal. They shoulda known that on the first day. They did know it on the first day. Wait till you see what's coming out. You're gonna have to see.

So he got caught with Mueller and all of his henchmen, where they spent $45 million trying to take down a president who was totally innocent.

If there's so much evidence of wrongdoing, why haven't we seen any criminal indictments from the U.S. Attorney John Durham?

Well, you'll have to ask that to Attorney General Barr. Let's see what's happening.

Are you expecting criminal indictments?

I'm not gonna say because I've totally taken myself out of it. Maybe I shouldn't have. I'm not, I don't have to. There's no legal reason. But I will tell you this. What Roger Stone was put through, and then they have a jury foreman who turned out to be a Roger Stone hater, and probably a Trump hater. And then they have a judge who did things that nobody's ever seen what a judge like this, what she did — what she did — take a look at what she's done to people.

He was treated very, very unfairly, just like General Flynn was treated very unfairly. And now, he's been proven to be right, and they still don't — the system still doesn't wanna release him. General Flynn is a good man. Roger Stone, what happened to him shouldn't ever be allowed to happen to anybody.

And yet, you have Comey and you have McCabe, and you have Lisa Strzok and her lover, and you have all these people walking around free as a bird. Well, let's see what happens. But they're the guilty ones. And let me just give you one final statement. They spied on my campaign. And the one who spied on my campaign was President Obama and sleepy Joe Biden.

That's a very serious charge. 

That's a serious charge. 

Do you think that will be investigated in a criminal court? 

Obama spied on my campaign. And so did Biden. And if this were the other way around — and you know this better than anybody. I know you've gone to the other side when you go to CBS — 

I haven't gone to the other side, I No.

You certainly have. You certainly have. But let me just tell you, Obama and Biden spied on my campaign using intelligence. They knew everything that was going on. They were in charge of it. And they got caught. Now, let's see if something happens. But they spied on my campaign. If that were the other way around, people would've been in jail for 50 years and it woulda started. Their sentence woulda started two years ago. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Will you pardon General Flynn? Will you pardon General Flynn?

I don't think he's gonna need a pardon because he's been proven to be innocent. I don't think he's gonna need a pardon. Remember this, they keep saying he lied. He didn't lie. The FBI didn't think he was lying. It was only Mueller and his henchmen that said he was lying. 

And the Mueller thing, after years of going through it, they said, "No collusion," about me. There was no collusion. But they knew that. And you know this. You won't report it anymore. In the old days, you would report —

No, I'm still reporting now.

They knew this in the first week that there was no collusion. But they took me two years. And this should never happen to another president again.

Do you regret firing General Flynn for lying to the vice president?

I would rather — you have to understand. I was given information that he lied. But now, I see that he didn't lie because the FBI didn't think he lied. I was told that he lied because Sally Yates came over and she said — I guess it was her, I don't know. But she said that he lied.

And interestingly — and the document she was basing this on, the next day — and she didn't give us a copy of the document. The next day, they were given to The Washington Post or The New York Times. That would mean that she probably gave those documents. 

I'm getting a big, hard wrap sign, President Trump. Finish what you're saying. I don't mean to interrupt, but they're telling me to —

Okay. Sally Yates came over, said he was lying. And then all of a sudden, she must've given those documents to The Washington Post or The New York Times —

Well, it's I don't know how it

Well, I don't know —

I don't know how the leaks happened.

You don't know, you should find out. You should try finding out. Because she came over, she said he lied. But then we find out that the FBI disagreed with her. The FBI said he didn't lie. And he's gone through hell. He's been destroyed. But he'll make a comeback. He's gonna make a great comeback.

Would you have him back into the White House?

I would. I think he's a great gentleman. He's a great — he's been in the military for many, many decades, actually. Highly respected. What General Flynn went through is so unfair. And he's still going through it. If he were a Democrat, that would have never happened, number one. And number two, if it did happen, it would've been an immediate exoneration. With us, it's always harder. But in the meantime, I'm here. And they're not.

Trump says he'd welcome Michael Flynn back to the White House 00:33

President Trump, thank you very much for the time. 

Thank you very much. Thank you.

I really appreciate it, thank you. 

Thank you very much. Okay.

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