For the second time in less than a month, President Donald Trump sat down for a mildly tough interview, which aired Monday on HBO, during which he was confronted with facts and some of his most glaring falsehoods were appropriately challenged. It was a sweeping conversation with Axios’ Jonathan Swan that produced a string of jaw-dropping and maddening moments. But even in the long list of appalling remarks from the president, the worst exchanges are likely to be remembered as these.
“You can’t do that.”
In a heated back and forth, Trump and Swan sparred over the best statistics to assess the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump falsely asserted that US deaths from the virus are “lower” than anywhere in the world, rifling through a disorganized stack of printed charts to somehow back the absurd claim. “Lower than the world? In what?” Swan asked.
Glancing at the charts Trump was referencing, Swan said, “You’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of the population.”
“You can’t do that,” an outraged Trump replied.
After a brief explanation of the statistical importance of comparing coronavirus numbers in proportion to a country’s population, Trump then pivoted and suggested that South Korea has been falsely reporting its numbers in order to give the appearance of a more effective response. “You don’t know that,” Trump said when Swan mentioned South Korea’s low number of deaths from coronavirus. “You think they’re faking their statistics, South Korea?”
“Uh, I won’t get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country but you don’t know that.”
.@jonathanvswan: “Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population. That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.”@realdonaldtrump: “You can’t do that.”
Swan: “Why can’t I do that?” pic.twitter.com/MStySfkV39
— Axios (@axios) August 4, 2020
“I don’t know John Lewis.”
When asked how history would memorialize the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, Trump claimed that he didn’t know Lewis. That lack of familiarity, Trump suggested, was a direct result of Lewis’ refusal to attend his inauguration ceremony. Trump immediately followed that breathtaking display of pettiness by declining to describe Lewis as impressive—twice.
“I can’t say one way or another,” Trump said. “I found a lot of people impressive, I find many people not impressive but he didn’t come to my inauguration, he didn’t come to my State of the Union speeches.” He then declared, falsely, that as president he’s done more for Black people in America than anyone else in history.
.@jonathanvswan: "How do you think history will remember John Lewis?"
President Trump to #AxiosOnHBO: "I don't know…I don't know John Lewis. He chose not to come to my inauguration." pic.twitter.com/LDv76rrIFc
— Axios (@axios) August 4, 2020
“Yeah, I wish her well.”
In an extraordinary moment last month, Trump offered warm wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime associate of Jeffrey Epstein who was recently charged with helping Epstein’s child-trafficking operation. “I just wish her well, frankly,” he said at a July 21 news conference.
Asked for his thoughts on Maxwell, Trump stood by his remarks and said, “Yeah, I wish her well. I’d wish you well. I wish a lot of people well.”
He also promoted the conspiracy theory that Epstein was murdered. “Her friend or boyfriend was either killed or committed suicide in jail.”
“I mean, she’s an alleged child sex trafficker,” Swan interrupted at one point.
Trump sure got defensive when talking about his friends Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein. Wonder why.
— MeidasTouch.com (@MeidasTouch) August 4, 2020