Trump Responds To Investigations He's Facing In 2-Hour CPAC Speech

Mar 2, 2019
Originally published on March 2, 2019 6:35 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump had a lot to say about those congressional investigations when he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference today, which was held just outside Washington, D.C.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So they don't have anything with Russia. There's no collusion. So now they go and morph into let's inspect every deal he's ever done. We're going to go into his finances. We're going to check these deals. We're going to check - these people are sick. They're sick.

MARTIN: The two-hour long speech was also a bit of a pep rally as President Trump gears up for his 2020 re-election campaign. NPR's Scott Detrow is covering the 2020 campaign, and he was at CPAC this week, and he's with us now.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARTIN: So how much time did the president spend addressing all of these developments with Michael Cohen and Russia?

DETROW: You know, I guess in a two-hour, unscripted speech, if he had not talked about it, it would be newsworthy. A notable amount of time - the president walked through a lot of the usual complaints about Robert Mueller and congressional Democrats. But with a lot more intensity, he said the investigations into him are B.S. But he did not abbreviate the word.

Not as much on Cohen himself but a lot about exactly what you were just talking about - the way that these congressional investigations are starting to spiral out and look at new leads, including Trump's business career. The president is trying to frame that as the Democrats scrambling, trying to do anything they can to bring him down.

I thought it was notable that he placed a lot of the blame not on Democrats, though, but on Republicans in his own administration - former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who he mocked his accent at one point, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for appointing Mueller to begin with.

MARTIN: You know, the president's also been facing criticism over his comments about North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, and the treatment of Otto Warmbier, the American who died shortly after being released from custody there in North Korea. Now, Warmbier's parents criticized the president's defense of Kim, and I understand the president addressed that in his speech also. What did he say?

DETROW: Yeah. Earlier this week, it was kind of an echo of how Trump once took Vladimir Putin at his word that Russia didn't interfere in the election. He said he believed Kim when Kim said that he was out of the loop on Warmbier's detention and fatal injuries. And, as you said, that got a ton of criticism. Today, Trump said he has great respect and has a good relationship with the Warmbier family. And he seemed to indicate that he had to go easy on Kim in order to reach a broader nuclear agreement.

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TRUMP: I'm in such a horrible position because in one way, I have to negotiate. In the other way, I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier, and I love Otto. And it's a very, very delicate balance.

DETROW: You know, Trump seems to have developed an affinity for Kim as well, though, whether that's strategic or genuine. And for him, that seems to complicate his ability to talk tough about this incident or other atrocities that North Korea's been accused of.

MARTIN: As we noted, you've been at that CPAC all weekend. Trump's speech was the capper, which was quite a capper. But you also talked to a number of the attendees. Were any themes emerging for Trump's 2020 campaign?

DETROW: Yeah. There's a pretty clear argument at this point taking place, though the president talking for two hours just showed yet again how tough it is to stick to a specific argument when it comes to President Trump. But a big part of it is the economy, how well it's been doing, even with some hiccups lately, and arguing that the president has a lot to do with that, particularly the big tax overhaul that he ushered through. So a lot of talk about that, a lot of things to energize his base by talking about the wall and various culture war issues - and also, just repeatedly telling conservatives just how many judges Trump has put on the benches and done things like that.

MARTIN: OK. Very briefly, Scott, if you would, now that's - his base is one thing, and that was clearly a very friendly audience. But the issue in the midterms was clearly the moderates. Did he indicate any strategy for dealing with that, as briefly as you can?

DETROW: Yes. One word - socialism. He's going to repeat it again and again and try and scare moderates off from supporting Democrats saying the Democrats are lurching leftward.

MARTIN: We're going to talk more about that in the Barbershop in just a few minutes. That's NPR's Scott Detrow.

Scott, thank you.

DETROW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF YPPAH SONG, "OCCASIONAL MAGIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.