3 Takeaways: Trump finds a new scapegoat as he ends media blackout

President blames Paul Ryan, warns Justice Department in interview with conservative website

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive to the Capitol to attend the Senate Republican policy luncheon on Jan. 9. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive to the Capitol to attend the Senate Republican policy luncheon on Jan. 9. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 31, 2019 at 12:01pm

President Donald Trump is not slated to appear in public for a sixth consecutive day Thursday, but he ended his media blackout giving an interview to a conservative news outlet and a wild three-hour tweetstorm.

Before his morninglong tweetstorm that included 13 posts about a variety of topics, the president emerged from his self-imposed blackout Wednesday night via an Oval Office interview with the Daily Caller.

The Caller reporters hit the president with questions on a range of topics, including some related to Congress.

One focused on Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer saying it’s best if Trump and the White House sit out House-Senate negotiations about a border security spending package that is needed in the next 16 days to avert another partial government shutdown. “I don’t blame him,” Trump said of his fellow-New Yorker. But he also offered a warning, saying, “without our involvement, a deal is not going to get done.”

[Trump tells GOP members they’re ‘wasting their time’ in border security talks]

Here are three takeaways from Trump’s wide-ranging and blackout-ending interview.

Forever war

Trump has railed against America’s open-ended military conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia. But he’s waging what seems like a “forever war” with the Justice Department and FBI.

The battle runs hot and cold. Trump lit it on fire anew Wednesday evening when asked about the FBI’s pre-dawn raid last Friday to arrest Roger Stone on charges related to his conversations with Wikileaks, allegedly on behalf of the Trump 2016 campaign.

“I thought it was very unusual. … But I will say, like, I’m speaking for a lot of people that were very disappointed to see that go down that way, to see it happen where it was on camera, on top of it,” he said. “That was a very, very disappointing scene.” He also indicated he would “think about” asking the FBI to reconsider its tactics because of how he says it treated his friend. (Stone has said the arresting agents were “extraordinarily courteous.”)

And while the president noted he has “stayed out of that whole situation,” he did send a message to senior Justice Department officials and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

“I could’ve taken a much different stance, I could’ve gotten involved in this, I could’ve terminated everything. I could’ve ended everything,” he said. “I’ve chosen to stay out of it. But I had the right to, as you know, I had the right if I wanted to, to end everything. I could’ve just said, ‘that’s enough.’ Many people thought that’s what I should do.”

Blame PDR

For Republicans’ inability to get a bill through the Senate that would have repealed former President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare law, Trump continues blaming the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his midnight thumbs down vote that sank the bill.

And now, after a 35-day partial government shutdown that his own White House aides say hurt the U.S. economy and left him weakened politically, Trump has a new scapegoat.

“Well, I was going to veto the omnibus bill [in late 2017] and Paul told me in the strongest of language, ‘Please don’t do that, we’ll get you the wall.’ And I said, ‘I hope you mean that, because I don’t like this bill,’” the president said, referring to then-Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

“Paul told me in the strongest of terms that, ‘please sign this and if you sign this we will get you that wall,’” Trump told the conservative news website. “Which is desperately needed by our country. Humanitarian crisis, trafficking, drugs, you know, everything — people, criminals, gangs, so, you know, we need the wall. … And then he went lame duck.

“And once he went lame duck, it was just really an exercise in waving to people and the power was gone so I was very disappointed,” Trump said. “I was very disappointed in Paul because the wall was so desperately needed. And I’ll get the wall.”

But it remains unclear how. He told the Caller “it’s highly unlikely” he would trade a permanent fix for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for wall funding. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Thursday she’ll leave that up to a House-Senate conference panel, meaning that idea lacks the added punch of either the office of the president or speaker.

[So many 2020 Democrats, so much (executive) time]

What’s more, Pelosi said wall funding is not part of the panel’s negotiations. Pelosi did say that if the president wants to call the 300 miles of authorized, and mostly built, Normandy fences along the southern border a wall, then he’s got a wall.

State of the border

The president also signaled his second official State of the Union address on Tuesday evening will focus ample time on what he calls a “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border and his proposed border barrier — which Thursday he demanded Republican and Democrats alike just refer to it as a “wall” even though he several weeks ago said it should be called “artistically designed steel slats.

“Some of them will be border-related, some of them will be people who have suffered very badly because we didn’t do what we should’ve done in a very dangerous part of our country, and so that’s going to be a part of it, absolutely,” Trump said of his invited guests for the big speech.

The president also signaled he will paint the United States, under his watch, as outperforming the rest of the world economically. Though expect his usual gloomy assessment of the effects of illegal migration over the southern border, which he says automatically breeds high crime rates and rampant drug addiction.

“The world is not doing well, and we’re going great. You look at the numbers — we’re hitting highs,” he told the Caller. “I get no credit for it. It’s like, when do you ever hear them talking about — [the Dow Jones Industrial Average] just hit 25,000 [for the third time], and you won’t even hear a thing about it.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.