Trump tamps down bombshell interview with UK tabloid, apologizes to Prime Minister May

By On July 13, 2018

Trump tamps down bombshell interview with UK tabloid, apologizes to Prime Minister May

Trump tamps down bombshell interview with UK tabloid, apologizes to Prime Minister MayCLOSE

US President Donald Trump is asserting that he didn't criticize British Prime Minister Theresa May during an interview this week with The Sun newspaper in which he questioned May's handling of Brexit. (July 13)

ELLESBOUROUGH, England â€" President Donald Trump on Friday attempted to downplay searing remarks he made to a London newspaper about British Prime Minister Theresa May and said he apologized to her for what he described as a "fake" story.

Standing alongside May at the prime minister's country retreat, Trump specifically retreated from comments The Sun published hours earlier in which the president criticized her pla n to withdraw from the European Union. Instead, Trump heaped praise on May and touted the strong relationship between the two countries.

“I have a lot of respect for the prime minister,” Trump said before turning to the issue of the U.K.'s effort to pull out of the European Union, know as Brexit. “Whatever you're gonna do is okay with us."

Trump characterized the relationship between the U.S. and U.K. as “the highest level of special.”

“Is there a level higher than that?" he said as he turned toward May.

Throughout a press conference that followed meetings between the leaders on Thursday and Friday, Trump and May largely sidestepped questions about the interview as they sought to present an image of unity. They held hands as they walked down four ancient, brick steps into a garden overlooking the East English countryside.

The president denied criticizing May in the story, argued that The Sun did not include his positive comments, described the peice as "fake news" and said he had a recording of the interview to prove it.

The Sun, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, released audio of the interview after the story was published.

"She's a very tough, very smart, very capable person," Trump said. "I would much rather have her as my friend than my enemy."

Trump also said he apologized to May after he arrived at Chequers on Friday.

"Don't worry," Trump said May responded. "It's only the press."

But the tabloid broadside nevertheless appeared to overshadow what was supposed to be a friendly meeting to shore up the "special relationship" between the United States and the United Kingdom, and it raised questions about the two leaders’ ability to strike a deal on trade that May's government is eager to reach.

In the Sun interview, which published soon after May hosted Trump at a black-tie din ner at Blenheim Palace, the president cast his lot with the Brexiteers, the conservative faction that wants a complete split with the European government in Brussels. Trump told The Sun that a trade deal with the U.S. would likely not happen if May's plan to keep close trade ties with the EU goes ahead.

He also said Boris Johnson, who quit as foreign secretary this week over May's Brexit plan, would be a "great prime minister."

The question of Britain's political and economic disentanglement from continental Europe was already looming over Trump's first trip to Great Britain as president. May's government faced high-profile defections last weekend over her proposal for a "soft" departure from the European Union. May hopes to sign a trade deal with the U.S. after the U.K. leaves the EU in March next year.

Trump's U.K. trip is part of a seven-day, European tour intended to shore up alliances before Trump meets with Ru ssian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

Trump sought to lower expectations for that meeting during the press conference. He said he intended to discuss nuclear proliferation, Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election as well as Russian’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 â€" but suggested that building a relationship with Putin was his top goal.

“I love the United States, but I love getting along with Russia and China and other countries,” Trump said.

Trump said he would raise Russian meddling in the election, but added he didn't expect much on the issue from Putin, he has steadfastly denied involvement.

“I will absolutely bring that up,” Trump said. “I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee, I did it, I did it. You got me!’ There won’t be Perry Mason here, I don’t think. But I will absolutely, firmly ask the question.”

CLOSE

President Trump unleashing on British Prime Minister Theresa May in an explosive interview with The Sun. Veuer's Nick Cardona has that story.

An hour's drive away in central London, tens of thousands of protesters banged drums and shouted slogans to show their disapproval of Trump's policies, especially on immigration. Their battle flag: A 20-foot inflatable blimp in the shape of a diaper-wearing Trump, flying in the skies above Westminster.

The "Trump baby" was later deflated for its journey to Scotland, where it will be used to taunt Trump at his golf course this weekend. A smaller version was to accompany the protesters on an afternoon march to Trafalgar Square.

But Trump largely avoided the protests, ferrying from site to site by helicopter. He told the Sun that the blimp made him feel "unwelcome" in the city.

More:President Trump attacks U.K. politicians, says & #039;baby' blimp makes him feel unwelcome in London

Related: What to expect when the Trumps meet Queen Elizabeth II at her favorite castle

May's government downplayed the significance of Trump's remarks, with Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan telling the BBC he saw nothing wrong with what Trump said.

“Donald Trump is a controversialist â€" that is his style, that is the color he brings to the world stage,” he told the BBC's Today program. “I don’t think it’s rude to praise Boris Johnson. He is entitled to his opinion.”

And Duncan said Trump's criticism of May's plan is out-of date, with a more detailed white paper being released since Trump sat down for the interview Wednesday in Brussels. He said he was confident that a trade deal with the U.S. could still happen as it is in both countries' "mutual interests."

But among May's supporters in parliament, condemnation of the i nterview was swift.

More:President Trump attacks U.K. politicians, says 'baby' blimp makes him feel unwelcome in London

Also:President Donald Trump arrives to Britain in 'turmoil'

Trump's Europe trip: Where he's going on his 7-day visit with NATO allies and Putin

Sarah Wollaston, a lawmaker from May's ruling Conservative Party, said Trump engaged in "divisive, dog-whistle rhetoric" when he said Europe was "losing its culture" because of immigration..

“I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was and I don’t mean that in a positive way," he said. “So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad."

Another conservative member of parliament, Anna Soubry, said Trump's insults only enhance May's credibility in the Uni ted Kingdom. "Yet again he diminishes the standing of the great country he is meant to lead," she said.

Trump also took aim at Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim mayor of London who has been critical of his immigration policies. Trump told the Sunthat Khan had done a "very bad job on crime" and a "very bad job on terrorism."

Khan told the BBC it was "interesting" that Trump is not criticizing the mayors of other cities where terror attacks have also occurred.

The president will spend the weekend at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland before flying to Helsinki for the Putin summit.

Jane Onyanga-Omara reported from London. John Fritze reported from Washington.

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President Donald Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May s tand together upon Trump's arrival for a meeting at Chequers, the prime minister's country residence, northwest of London, July 13, 2018. Fullscreen (L-R) US President Donald Trump, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, US First Lady Melania Trump and Philip May stand on the steps in the Great Court to watch the bands of the Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards perform a ceremonial welcome as they arrive for a black-tie dinner with business leaders at Blenheim Palace, west of London, on July 12, 2018, on the first day of President Trump's visit to the UK. The four-day trip, which will include talks with Prime Minister Theresa May, tea with Queen Elizabeth II and a private weekend in Scotland, is set to be greeted by a leftist-organised mass protest in London on Friday. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images ORIG FILE ID: AFP_17J9SP Fullscreen From left, first lady Melania Trump, President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and her husband Philip May, watch the arrival ceremony at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, west of London, Thursday, July 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) ORG XMIT: GBRM159 Fullscreen President Donald J. Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May arrive at Blenheim Palace ahead of a dinner with business leaders, in Oxfordshire, Britain, July 12, 2018. Fullscreen Demonstrators protest the arrival of President Donald J. Trump at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, Britain, July 12 2018. Fullscreen A giant "Human Rights Nightmare" banner is unfurled by Amnesty International activists across the river Thames on V auxhall Bridge to protest against the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump, in London, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Trump will get the red carpet treatment on his brief visit to England: Military bands at a gala dinner the night he arrives, lunch with the prime minister at her country place the next day, then tea with the queen at magnificent Windsor Castle before flying off to one of his golf clubs in Scotland. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) ORG XMIT: XLB108 Fullscreen U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk across the tarmac after stepping off Air Force One as they arrive at London's Stansted Airport, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Walking directly behind them is Woody Johnson, center, United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) ORG XMIT: GRBM130 Fullscreen U.S. President Donald Trump speak s during a press conference after a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Thursday, July 12, 2018. NATO leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) ORG XMIT: FOS250 Fullscreen U.S. President Donald Trump checks the time as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stands beside him, at the Art and History Museum at the Park Cinquantenaire in Brussels on July 11, 2018. NATO leaders gathered in Brussels Wednesday for a two-day summit to discuss Russia, Iraq and their mission in Afghanistan. Fullscreen French First lady Brigitte Macron, left,and US First Lady Melania Trump ahead of a NATO spouses dinner at Jubilee Museum in Brussels, Belgium on July 11, 2018. NATO member countries' heads of states and governments gather in Brussels on July 11 and 12 for a two day meeting. Fullscreen US President Donald J. Trump, left, chats with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during a NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium on July 11, 2018. NATO countries' heads of states and governments gather in Brussels for a two-day meeting. Fullscreen US President Donald Trump , right, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are reflected in a mirror as they attend at a breakfast meeting with the NATO Secretary General and staff at the US chief of mission's residence in Brussels on July 11, 2018, ahead of a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit. Fullscreen US President Donald Trump gestures after arriving for the North Atlantic Council meeting on the during the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, at the NATO he adquarters in Brussels, on July 11, 2018. Fullscreen US President Donald Trump, right, walks in with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, as they arrive to attend the multilateral meeting of the North Atlantic Council on July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. NATO leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit to discuss Russia, Iraq and their mission in Afghanistan. Fullscreen (L-R) NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump talk during a family photo ahead of the opening ceremony of the NATO summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on July 11, 2018. Fullscreen (L-R): Belgian Prime Minister's partner Amelie Derbaudrenghien, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, US President Donald Trump and US First L ady US Melania Trump arrive for a working dinner at The Parc du Cinquantenaire - Jubelpark Park in Brussels on July 11, 2018, during the NATO summit. Fullscreen L-R, first row) German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May attend the opening ceremony at the 2018 NATO Summit at NATO headquarters on July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Leaders from NATO member and partner states are meeting for a two-day summit, which is being overshadowed by strong demands by U.S. President Trump for most NATO member countries to spend more on defense. Fullscreen BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JULY 11: Heads of state and government, including (from L to R, first row) Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, NATO Secretary General Jens S toltenberg, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May pose for the family photo during the opening ceremony at the 2018 NATO Summit at NATO headquarters on July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Leaders from NATO member and partner states are meeting for a two-day summit, which is being overshadowed by strong demands by U.S. President Trump for most NATO member countries to pay more towards funding the alliance. Fullscreen France's President Emmanuel Macron, right, US President Donald J. Trump, center, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 2nd from left, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on July 11, 2018. NATO countries' heads of states and governments gather in Brussels for a two-day meeting. Fullscreen US President Donald J. Trump , center, is greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stol tenberg as he arrives for a NATO summit in Brussels, BelgiumJuly 11, 2018. NATO countries' heads of states and governments gather in Brussels for a two-day meeting. Fullscreen President Donald Trump meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their bilateral meeting at the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium on July, 11, 2018. Fullscreen President Donald Trump pats a world leader on the back as he makes his way to his seat for a meeting of the North Atlantic Council during a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels on July 11, 2018. NATO leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit to discuss Russia, Iraq and their mission in Afghanistan. Fullscreen President Donald Trump walks in as he is introduced at the summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels on July 11, 2018. NATO leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit to discuss Russia, Iraq and their mission in Afghanistan. Fullscreen President Donald Trump and Melania Trump walk to their vehicle after arriving on Air Force One at Melsbroek Air Base on July 10, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Fullscreen US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump disembark from Air Force One as they arrive at Melsbroek Air Base in Haachtsesteenweg on July 10, 2018. President Donald Trump has arrived in Brussels on the eve of a tense NATO summit where he is set to clash with allies over defence spending. Trump arrived on Air Force One at Melsbroek military airport, shortly after saying on Twitter that NATO allies should "reimburse" the United States for spending on the allianc e. FullscreenReplay
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