Trump slams Fed chair, questions climate change and threatens to cancel Putin meeting

US President Donald Trump complained at length about Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome "Jay" Powell, whom he nominated earlier this year.
US President Donald Trump complained at length about Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome "Jay" Powell, whom he nominated earlier this year.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - United States President Donald Trump placed responsibility for recent stock market declines and this week's General Motors plant closures and layoffs on the Federal Reserve during an interview on Tuesday (Nov 27), shirking any personal responsibility for cracks in the economy and declaring that he is "not even a little bit happy" with his hand-selected central bank chairman.

In a wide-ranging and sometimes discordant 20-minute interview with The Washington Post, Mr Trump complained at length about Federal reserve Chairman Jerome "Jay" Powell, whom he nominated earlier this year.

He argued that rising interest rates and other Fed policies were damaging the economy - as evidenced by GM's announcement this week that it was laying off 15 per cent of its workforce - though he insisted that he is not worried about a recession.

"I'm doing deals, and I'm not being accommodated by the Fed," Mr Trump said. "They're making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else's brain can ever tell me."

He added: "So far, I'm not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay. Not even a little bit. And I'm not blaming anybody, but I'm just telling you I think that the Fed is way off-base with what they're doing."

Mr Trump also dismissed the federal government's landmark report released last week finding that damages from global warming are intensifying around the country.

The President said that "I don't see" climate change as man-made and that he does not believe the scientific consensus.

"One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we're not necessarily such believers," Mr Trump said.

"You look at our air and our water, and it's right now at a record clean."

The President added of climate change: "As to whether or not it's man-made and whether or not the effects that you're talking about are there, I don't see it."

The comments were Mr Trump's most extensive yet on why he disagrees with the dire National Climate Assessment released by his own administration last Friday, which found that climate change poses a severe threat to the health and financial security of Americans, as well as to the country's infrastructure and natural resources.

Sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, Mr Trump also threatened to cancel his scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a global summit this week because of Russia's maritime clash with Ukraine.

He said he was awaiting a "full report" from his national security team on Tuesday evening about Russia's capture of three Ukrainian naval ships and their crews in the Black Sea on Sunday.

"That will be very determinative," Mr Trump said. "Maybe I won't have the meeting. Maybe I won't even have the meeting... I don't like that aggression. I don't want that aggression at all."

Mr Trump again questioned the CIA's assessment that Saudi Arabia's crown prince ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to The Post, and said he has considered Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's repeated denials in his decision to maintain a close alliance with the oil-rich desert kingdom.

"Maybe he did and maybe he didn't," Mr Trump said. "But he denies it. And people around him deny it. And the CIA did not say affirmatively he did it, either, by the way. I'm not saying that they're saying he didn't do it, but they didn't say it affirmatively."

 
 
 

The CIA has assessed that Prince Mohammed ordered Mr Khashoggi's killing and has shared its findings with lawmakers and the White House, according to people familiar with the matter. Intelligence assessments are rarely, if ever, ironclad, and Mr Trump has repeatedly stressed that there is no evidence that would irrefutably lay the blame at the Crown Prince's feet.

But the CIA based its overall assessment of Prince Mohammed's role on a number of pieces of compelling evidence, including intercepted communications, surveillance from inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where Mr Khashoggi was killed in October and the agency's analysis of Prince Mohammed's total control of the Saudi government.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump said he had "no intention" of taking action to stop special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"The Mueller investigation is what it is. It just goes on and on and on," Mr Trump said.

When pressed on whether he would commit to letting the probe continue until its conclusion, he stopped short of making an explicit pledge.

"This question has been asked about me now for almost two years," the President said, at which point counsellor Kellyanne Conway chimed in: "A thousand times."

Mr Trump continued: "And, in the meantime, he's still there. He wouldn't have to be, but he's still there, so I have no intention of doing anything."

The President declined to discuss on the record the Mueller team's accusation on Monday that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying repeatedly to investigators.

Mr Trump also floated the idea of removing US troops from the Middle East, citing the lower price of oil as a reason to withdraw.

"Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel," Mr Trump said. "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."

Mr Trump also called the killing of three US troops in a roadside explosion in Afghanistan this week "very sad".

He said he was continuing the military presence in Afghanistan only because "experts" told him the US needed to keep fighting there.

The President said he was considering visiting troops in the region soon, perhaps before Christmas.

"At the right time I will," Mr Trump said of a war-zone visit, which would be his first as president.