[Trump speaks off the record.]

In their talk with Trump yesterday Josh Dawsey and Philip Rucker asked him about the Mueller-Manafort breakup.

DAWSEY: People around you have told me you’re upset about the way he’s been treated. Are you planning to do anything to help him?

TRUMP: Let me go off the record because I don’t want to get in the middle of the whole thing.

[Trump speaks off the record.]

DAWSEY: Is there any version of that you’re willing to give us on the record in answer to that question?

TRUMP: I’d rather not. At some point, I’ll talk on the record about it. But I’d rather not.

[Trump speaks off the record.]

So it’s not likely that was an uncomplicated “no,” then. He’s said “no” many times on the record, so if he felt the need to say it off the record, it probably wan’t just another “no.” So what was it?

DAWSEY: Mr. President, your national security team is going to the Hill tomorrow to brief senators on Saudi Arabia and Jamal Khashoggi. I’ve heard from Senator [Lindsey O.] Graham, who I know you were with yesterday, and others, that they want stronger punishment on Saudi Arabia, tougher sanctions. Do you want them to impose that, or do you think that would be deleterious to our — ?

TRUMP: I’m going to listen to what they say. They’re all friends of mine, and I get along with them great. I’m going to certainly listen to what they have to say, Josh. In the end, though, they’re spending massive amounts of billions of dollars. If you look at Iran and what they do, and you look at many other countries — I don’t have to embarrass other countries by saying it — if you look at what they do, it’s a rough part of the world. It’s a dangerous, rough part of the world. But they’ve been a great ally. Without them, Israel would be in a lot more trouble. We need to have a counterbalance to Iran. I know him. I know him well, the crown prince. And, by the way, never did business with them, never intend to do business with them. I couldn’t care less. This is a very important job that I’m doing right now. The last thing I care about is doing business with people. I only do business for us. Somebody said, well, maybe they’re an investor in one of his jobs. The answer is no.

Like hell it is.

But I just feel that it’s very, very important to maintain that relationship. It’s very important to have Saudi Arabia as an ally, if we’re going to stay in that part of the world. Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel. Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.

RUCKER: And why have you taken his denials for ordering the killing of our colleague, Jamal Khashoggi —

TRUMP: I haven’t taken anything.

RUCKER: — over the evidence that the intelligence community has gathered?

TRUMP: Phil, I haven’t done that. If you look at my statement, it’s maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. But he denies it. And people around him deny it.

Sometimes people deny things for reasons other than truth-telling. Sometimes.

RUCKER: Sir, you just said, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but are you getting the best advice and the best information from the intelligence community and on the climate issue from your experts in the government, because you’re doubting what they’re saying?

TRUMP: Phil, I’m getting advice. I’m the president of this country. I have to do what’s the best for our country. We have a very important ally in Saudi Arabia. We have an ally that has tremendous oil reserves, which are — frankly, they can make prices go up and down, and I want to keep them down. We have an ally that’s investing billions and billions of dollars in our country. They could very easily invest $110 billion, $450 billion overall over a period of time, fairly short period of time. $110 billion in military. Russia and China would love to have those orders, and they’ll get them if we don’t. They’ll have no choice, but they’ll get them if we don’t.

He seems to have completely missed what Rucker was asking, which was about the relationship between his constant dismissal of what experts in his own government tell him and his ability to get good information. If he refuses to pay attention to his own experts, how can he get the best advice and the best information? He doesn’t address that question at all.

So I take everything into consideration, and again, he totally denies it, and he denied it to me on three different occasions, on three different calls, and a lot of other people deny it, too. Did he do it? As I said, maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, but in the meantime Saudi Arabia’s spending billions and billions of dollars in the United States, and I want them to spend it here. I don’t want them to spend it in China and Russia.

One, he denies it so it’s not true, and two, never mind whether it’s true because money.

Also, about that it’s not true – he seems to think he gets to add up all the denials and get a higher not-true number. “He denied it to me on three different occasions, on three different calls, and a lot of other people deny it, too,” so it’s not true times 3 plus a lot. That makes it very very big number not true. You can’t argue with that.

But if you insist on arguing with it anyway, then money. End of argument.

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