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President Trump Gives Impromptu Interview With Fox News


President Trump dropped an economic bombshell this morning when he announced steep tariffs on $50 billion worth of imports from China. But that was quickly eclipsed when the president strolled out on the White House lawn for a wide-ranging interview with Fox News. In that interview and a follow-up conversation with other reporters, the president shook up the immigration debate on Capitol Hill, promoted his diplomatic efforts with North Korea and renewed his attacks on former FBI Director James Comey. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: After going 16 months without a formal news conference, President Trump has now had two long-running exchanges with reporters in less than a week, one in Singapore and now on the White House lawn. He was pressed this morning about the administration's effort to discourage illegal border crossings by separating migrant children from their parents. That move has drawn protests from church groups and human rights organizations. Although the policy was adopted by his own Homeland Security Department, Trump insists Democrats are to blame.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I hate it. I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That's their law.

HORSLEY: In fact, family separation is not required by law. But House Republicans are considering a bill that would end the policy as part of a broader immigration overhaul. The compromise measure would fulfill many of Trump's demands, including funding for his border wall, an end to the visa lottery and new limits on family-based immigration. But even though the White House had signaled support for the measure, one of two lawmakers are considering, Trump raised new questions when he told Fox News he couldn't support it.


STEVE DOOCY: One of them, the Goodlatte bill - the other is something more moderate. Would you sign either one of those?

TRUMP: I'm looking at both of them. I certainly wouldn't sign the more moderate one.

DOOCY: What does the bill have to have in it?

TRUMP: I need a bill that gives this country tremendous border security. I have to have that.

HORSLEY: The White House later assured GOP House leaders that the president does support the compromise bill and simply misunderstood the question. The mixed signals represent one more challenge, though, for an already dicey immigration vote. Trump was also asked about a new Justice Department inspector general's report which criticizes former FBI Director James Comey. Trump seized on the report as vindication.


TRUMP: No, I think that James Comey was unfair to the people of this country. I think what he did was a disgrace. I think he goes down as the worst FBI director in history by far. There's nobody close. And I think I did the country a tremendous favor by firing him.

HORSLEY: Although the scope of the inspector general's report is limited and it found no political bias in the FBI's decision-making, Trump claims the report undermines the special counsel's probe into his campaign. That was one of a number of subjects where the president appeared to stretch the facts. Trump also claimed to have solved the nuclear threat from North Korea, which was a top concern for his predecessor.


TRUMP: When I was talking to President Obama, he essentially was ready to go to war with North Korea. He felt you had to almost go to war. And I did ask him, have you spoken to him - goes, no. I said, do you think it would be a good thing to speak to him, maybe...

DOOCY: Right.

TRUMP: ...OK, 'cause, you know, if you go to war there, you're not talking about a hundred thousand lives, which is a lot.

DOOCY: Right.

TRUMP: You're talking about 30, 40, 50 million lives.

DOOCY: Sure.

HORSLEY: It's true that Obama was deeply concerned about North Korea's fast-growing nuclear capability. But unlike Trump, Obama never threatened to go to war on the Korean Peninsula. A former national security spokesman says Obama knew all too well that a military conflict there would be nothing short of catastrophic.

Trump also defended his conduct at last weekend's G-7 meeting in Canada where he angered America's longtime allies. Trump had pushed to readmit Russia to the group, formerly known as the G-8. Former President Obama pressed for Russia's ouster after its illegal annexation of Crimea, but Trump insists the former president didn't do enough.


TRUMP: President Obama lost Crimea because President Putin didn't respect President Obama, didn't respect our country and didn't respect Ukraine.

HORSLEY: Trump said this morning the U.S. has won new respect around the world even as he challenges longtime allies and wages a trade war on multiple fronts. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.