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Trump Talks About Inspector General's Report, Tariffs

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has ordered steep tariffs on Chinese imports, a move that escalates an ongoing trade battle between the U.S. and China. The president talked about that and a whole lot of other issues during a wide-ranging interview on Fox News this morning. He also spoke with other reporters who were assembled on the White House lawn.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now in the studio to recap. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So we'll get to the U.S. tariffs on China in a moment. But first let's talk about the president's remarks reflecting on his time with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. He said today in this "Fox & Friends" interview that the two men kind of got on. He said they had good personal chemistry. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He's the head of a country. And, I mean, he's the strong head. Don't let anyone think anything different. He speaks, and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.

MARTIN: We should say that the president then was asked about this later by other reporters, and he said that this was just a joke. It was an off-the-cuff remark. But what does it tell us about the current state of U.S.-North Korean relations after this summit?

HORSLEY: Well, you know, jokes and off-the-cuff remarks can sometimes be revealing. And it's no secret that President Trump has always admired authoritarian leaders. He had said while he was in Singapore meeting with Kim Jong Un that they had a good rapport. He thought that Kim had a lot of personality, was a very good negotiator on behalf of his people.

Now, since footage of a North Korean documentary's come out the president's gotten some heat for saluting a North Korean military officer who has a pretty checkered track record. He defended that today. And it's just something that was a gesture of politeness, although some military veterans in this country have said it's an unseemly thing for the president of the United States, the commander in chief of the U.S. military, to be saluting a military officer from a country like North Korea.

MARTIN: In this interview, the president also weighed in on the new report from the inspector general at the Justice Department. This is a report that is - while it found that the former FBI Director James Comey was not guilty of any political bias that he mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. What else did - what did the president have to say about that report?

HORSLEY: Well, you know, the president sees this as vindication of sorts of his attacks on Jim Comey and also other people in the FBI. Undermining confidence in the FBI has been a principal tactic for the president as he confronts the special counsel's investigation. We should say, though, the inspector general, even though he was critical of Comey and some FBI agents, basically found that there was no underlying political bias in the actions of the FBI with regard to Hillary Clinton's email.

MARTIN: He also touched on immigration. We have been I feel like collectively consumed with this story about how children are being separated from families at the border, those images - those headlines hard to absorb. So the president was asked to comment on this. He said that he is not going to support a bill in the House on immigration that would have addressed this particular issue, a particular bill that is popular with moderates. What more can you tell us about that?

HORSLEY: Well, this is a head scratcher because the Trump administration was intimately involved in crafting this legislation. And it really does most of what President Trump wants done. It provides funding for his border wall. It ends the visa lottery system that he's criticized. It reigns in family-based migration or what the president calls chain migration. So it's a mystery why the president would now come out and say he's not supporting this bill. It may very well be that he either misunderstood the question or misunderstood what's in the bill.

MARTIN: And finally, we've got to get to the U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports. The administration has been signaling for a long time that these were going to come, but now they finally have. Let's listen to what the president said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")

TRUMP: The trade war was started many years ago by them, and the United States lost, OK?

STEVE DOOCY: So you're saying we're on the losing end of it?

TRUMP: There's no trade war. Well, no, there is no trade war. They've taken so much.

MARTIN: Is there no trade war, Scott?

HORSLEY: There is a trade war not only with China, but the president's been firing on a number of fronts. You know, he's levied tariffs against Canada, against the Europeans. But this move against China is targeting what the White House considers unfair trade practices by that country. The tariffs have been in the works really since March, but there was some hope they might be avoided, that the threat of tariffs might be enough to persuade China to change its conduct.

Instead now we have sort of the shooting version of a trade war. China has promised retaliation against U.S. exports. And the president's former economic adviser, Gary Cohn, told a Washington Post session just yesterday that the fallout from this tariff battle could be enough to undermine all the economic gains of the GOP tax cut.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley - thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.