President Donald Trump criticized the Kurdish allies he’s been accused of abandoning, shrugged off the prospect of ISIS terrorists going free, referred to the Ukraine whistleblower’s source as a “spy,” and mocked two NBA coaches during a wide-ranging back and forth with reporters at the White House on Wednesday.
Trump spoke at an event in the Roosevelt Room, where he was touting two executive orders involving deregulation, and questioning quickly turned to impeachment as well as his decision to pave the way for Turkey’s military actions in Syria. Here are some the most notable moments from the press conference.
1. He said Kurds “didn’t help us with Normandy”
While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have blasted Trump for pulling back U.S. forcesand allowing the Turkish military to attack the U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters, Trump suggested the Kurds had only been looking out for their own interests.
“They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy,” Trump said, adding they were only interested in “fighting for their land.”
“In addition to that, we have spent tremendous amounts of money on helping the Kurds in terms of ammunition, in terms of weapons, in terms of money, in terms of pay,” he added. “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.”
The Kurds have been instrumental in helping the U.S. fight ISIS and experts have sounded alarms that the U.S. withdrawal could make them vulnerable to attacks from Turkey, their longtime adversaries, as well as ISIS.
2. He suggested ISIS “go back to their homes” in Europe
Asked if he was worried that thousands of ISIS fighters who have been in the custody of the Kurds could escape during the Turkish assault, Trump said, “Well, they’re going to be escaping to Europe. That’s where they want to go. They want to go back to their homes.”
3. He simultaneously questioned the existence of the whistleblower’s sources and suggested they could be “a spy”
Trump said he wasn’t aware that the record of his phone call with Ukraine’s president had been put in a server used for the nation’s top secrets because “I’m not a lawyer.”
“This city is the leaking capital of the world,” he said. “I assume it was for leaks. I’ve read that. I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
What is a big deal, he said, was that a White House official told a whistleblower about the “perfect” call.
“Who is the person giving this information, if that person exists? I’m not sure if that person exists,” he said.
If the person does, “we could have a spy and I don’t want to have spies,” he said. “I don’t want to have spies in the White House. I want to be free to make calls.”
4. He discussed meeting with families of slain soldiers
Trump said his desire to end U.S. military presence in Syria was born in part from seeing families of slain U.S. soldiers react to their deaths.
“I go to Dover when I can, but it’s so devastating for the parents,” he said, saying that family members sometimes “scream like I’ve never seen anything before. Sometimes they’ll run to the coffin and jump on top of the coffin, crying, mothers and wives crying desperately. And this is on these endless wars that just never stop.”
5. He said he would cooperate with the House’s impeachment inquiry … “if they give us our rights”
A day after the White House said it would not cooperate with the House’s impeachment inquiry, Trump suggested he might if the House votes on it and “if they give us our rights.” It’s not clear what rights the president was referring to. Impeachment is not a criminal proceeding that must adhere to standard due process rights. The Trump administration has blocked a number of current and formal officials from complying with House-issued subpoenas. The State Department earlier this week blocked E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland from testifying.
He again blasted Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., for how he characterized his call with Ukraine’s president. “He made me sound like a tyrant. It’s a terrible thing,” Trump said. “He defrauded the American public. I mean honestly I don’t know what could happen, but there are those that say he should be prosecuted for what he did.”
6. He mocked two NBA coaches over their response to China
The president was asked about the international firestorm that’s engulfed the NBA in the wake of Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey having tweeted in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. China, which has invested billions in the sport, responded by suspending ties with the franchise and Chinese TV outlets announced they’d no longer air Rockets games. The league has been scrambling to mend fences, which has led to bipartisan criticism from lawmakers.
Trump used his answer to mock the responses of two of his longtime critics, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
“I watched this guy, Steve Kerr, and he was like a little boy who so so scared to be even answering the question … He was shaking, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know.’ He didn’t know how to answer the question. And yet he’ll talk about the United States very badly. I watched Popovich — sort of the same thing, but he didn’t look quite as scared, actually. But they talk badly about the United States, but when it talks about China, they don’t want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad actually,” he said.
Asked if he was OK with the Chinese government pressuring the NBA to keep quiet about the Hong Kong protests, Trump said, “They have to work out their own situation. The NBA is — they know what they’re doing. But I watched the way that like Kerr, Popovich and some of the others were pandering to China, and yet to our own country, they don’t. It’s like they don’t respect it,” Trump said. “To me, it’s very sad.”
7. He said he might not even want a trade deal with China
Trump also addressed reports that Chinese officials aren’t optimistic about striking a deal to end the trade war that’s dragged on for over a year. “China wants to make a deal more than I do.”
“Look, I’m very happy right now, were taking in billions of dollars of tariffs,” he said. “They want to make a deal. The question is do I want to make a deal? The answer would be if we make the right deal I’d love to do it. I think it would be a great thing for China also.”
8. He repeated a debunked claim about Robert Mueller
Trump also doubled down on his claim that former FBI Director Robert Mueller had asked him to get his old job back one day before he became special counsel. Mueller has under oath denied doing so.
“He absolutely wanted to become the FBI director. I said no,” he said. Asked about unconfirmed reports of a dispute between Mueller and Trump’s Virginia golf course, Trump said, “that may be one of the reasons I said no.”