Image via screengrab
Image via screengrab

The explosive conversation with Axios on HBO included the president dismissing criticism of his COVID-19 response, and sending well wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell amid her trial on sex trafficking charges.

The novel coronavirus disease has claimed the lives of nearly 156,000 Americans, and the president of the United States believes “it is what it is.”

For the second time in recent weeks, President Donald Trump sat down for a moderately tough interview with Axios on HBO, which aired on Monday, during which he touted U.S. coronavirus deaths were “lower than the world.”

The at-times contentious conversation with Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan included the president dismissing criticism of his COVID-19 response, sending well wishes for the second time to Ghislaine Maxwell amid her trial on sex trafficking charges, and claiming he didn’t know civil rights icon and recently passed Georgia congressman John Lewis.

“You can’t do that.”

Trump and Swan clashed over statistics that show the United States’ response to the global pandemic, with the president bringing his own graphs to the interview to support his claims.

Trump said the U.S. is “lowest in numerous categories, lower than the world.” A confused Swan then asked, “What does that mean?”

“Lower than Europe,” Trump continues.

The president then hands Swan the graph, from a disorganized stack of papers: “Oh you’re doing death as a proportion of cases, I’m talking about death as a proportion of population. That’s where the US is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc,” Swan said.

Trump replied, “You can’t do that.”

“Why can’t I do that?” Swan pushed back.

“It is what it is.”

Not unlike recent press briefings, Trump tried to claim the U.S. had the coronavirus “under control.” When Swan confronted him with the fact that a thousand Americans are dying every day because of the disease, Trump replied, “they are dying, that’s true. It is what it is.”

“But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything that we can,” he continued. “It’s under control as much as you can control it.”

He went on to claim his administration had given governors “everything they needed,” before suggesting some had failed to do much with the federal support on offer. Some governors have repeatedly said the Trump administration is falling short.

“It never reached my desk.”

Trump came under fire in June after media outlets reported the U.S. intelligence informed him Russia offered Taliban forces bounties for killing U.S. troops in 2019.

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“It never reached my desk,” Trump said to Swan. “You know why? Intelligence, they didn’t think it was real … if it reached my desk, I would have done something about it.”

“Yeah I’d wish her well.”

In July, President Trump sent well wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime companion of infamous sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. FBI officials arrested Maxwell on child sex trafficking charges last month.

“I just wish her well, frankly,” Trump said to a group of reporters.

In the Axios interview, Trump appeared sympathetic to Maxwell once again.

“Her friend or boyfriend was either killed or committed suicide in jail. She’s now in jail. Yeah, I’d wish her well. I’d wish you well, I’d wish a lot of people well. Good luck. Let them prove somebody was guilty,” the president said.

He also went on to speculate about the nature of Epstein’s death.

“Her boyfriend died in jail, and people are still trying to figure out how did it happen? Was it suicide? Was he killed? And I do wish her [Maxwell] well. I’m not looking for anything bad for her,” Trump said.

“I don’t know John Lewis”

Toward the end of the 35-minute interview, Trump was asked about how history would remember John Lewis, who died last month from pancreatic cancer.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know John Lewis; he chose not to come to my inauguration. I never met John Lewis,” Trump said.

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Swan then asked if the president found the civil rights icon impressive. 

“I can’t say one way or the other,” Trump responded. “I find a lot of people impressive.”

The president then continued to belabor the point while praising his own perceived accomplishments with civil rights.

“He didn’t come to my inauguration. He didn’t come to my state of the union speeches, and that’s OK. That’s his right,” Trump explained. “And, again, nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have.”

“He should have come, and I think he made a big mistake,” he continued.

Trump later said Lewis devoted a “lot of energy and a lot of heart to civil rights” and that he’d have no objection to renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge to honor the late congressman.