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Former President Donald Trump says he has no regrets for his response to two major crises: the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020–21 and the U.S. Capitol breach on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump also said he is unsure whether America is ready to impose the death penalty on drug dealers, although that drastic step would eradicate the nation’s drug problem.
In an interview that aired June 20, Fox News’ Bret Baier noted that some of Trump’s opponents are running video “loops” showing him talking about “shutting down” the United States as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading in 2020. But Trump responded: “I gave the governors the option … I told all governors: ‘You do what you want. You can shut it down or not.’”
The segment, which lasted about 25 minutes, was the second and final part of an exclusive interview that Baier conducted with Trump on June 19; the first portion, which explored Trump’s legal woes relating to his handling of classified documents, aired the same night it was shot.
The former president faces 37 federal charges in Florida and 34 state charges in New York. All involve Trump’s handling of documents; the two-time Republican nominee for the presidency says he is a victim of political persecution, driven by Democrat foes bent on disrupting his 2024 election campaign.
During the June 20 broadcast, Trump noted that the governors of South Carolina, Tennessee, and South Dakota all decided to keep their states open while the virus was raging across the nation and world. “Georgia shut it down for a little while but not much,” Trump said, before taking a shot at his main GOP opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “In Florida, by the way, he shut it down tight. No highways, no beaches,” Trump said.
Baier questioned whether it was fair to criticize DeSantis’s COVID response, considering that the Florida governor was later praised for reopening the state while others remained locked down. But Trump replied, “Other governors did a better job.”
Vaccines a Tough Topic
Then Baier asked Trump a pointed question: Does he think the COVID-19 vaccines worked?
“It’s just such an interesting question,” Trump said. He noted that he tried to push alternative therapies to combat the virus, such as Regeneron. “We did a tremendous job on that,” Trump said.
However, Trump acknowledged that he shies away from discussing his “Operation Warp Speed” initiative, which got COVID-19 shots into production quickly. Trump said he has “a Democrat friend who’s very smart,” and that friend applauds him for his efforts that may have saved 100 million lives worldwide.
But Trump said he doesn’t talk about the vaccines. Many people now blame the shots for serious side effects. Republicans tend to dislike the shots, Trump said, so discussing them is difficult.
“As a Republican, it’s not a great thing to do,” he said, adding, “people love the vaccines, and people hate the vaccines … and I understand both sides of it.”
Trump pointed out that he never mandated anyone to get a COVID shot. He said DeSantis “loved” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a strong advocate of vaccines and mandatory mask-wearing.
Baier agreed that DeSantis had praised Fauci. But Baier pointed out that Trump didn’t fire Fauci, despite discontent with Fauci’s strict masking and vaccine policies. Trump retorted that because Fauci was a civil servant, he was unable to fire him.
“I never spent a lot of time with Fauci,” Trump said, but Democrat President Joe Biden did, causing Fauci to become “very powerful.”
“Remember, Fauci was the one that said, ‘Don’t close it to China,’” Trump said, reminding Baier that Trump stopped China-to-U.S.-travel at the outset of the pandemic in early 2020, against Fauci’s advice. Trump claims that Fauci, “believe it or not,” was originally “totally anti-mask, and then he became a radical masker.”
“I was always against the mandates,” Trump said.
About Jan. 6
Noting that Trump remains under investigation for his actions surrounding the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Baier asked Trump whether he was worried about anything he said or did that day coming back to haunt him.
Trump said that he spoke to his largest-ever audience that day, with some estimates setting the crowd size at 1 million people. Yet video footage of that peaceful audience is never shown, he said.
“My speech was an elegant speech,” Trump said, emphasizing that he told supporters to march “peacefully and patriotically” from The Ellipse to the Capitol, to show their opposition to the 2020 election results. Trump has maintained that the election was “rigged” or “stolen,” leading to Biden being declared the winner of the presidency.
Trump is standing by his decision to pardon some of the defendants who were charged in connection with the events of Jan. 6.
“Many of those people are very innocent people … many of them, soldiers, and policemen and firemen and doctors,” Trump said. Yet many of the defendants are being treated horribly, remaining jailed without bond for more than two years—something that might happen “in a Third-World country,” Trump said.
Death Penalty–or Not?
Baier said that some Republicans came down hard on Trump for being “soft” on crime when he signed The First Step Act, which reduced penalties for some nonviolent drug offenders.
DeSantis is among those who criticized Trump for signing that bipartisan legislation into law.
In the best-known example of how the act works, Trump commuted the life prison term of Alice Marie Johnson, who served 21 years in prison for her role in a Tennessee cocaine-trafficking operation.
Trump said his idea for considering imposing the death penalty on drug dealers came from conversations with China’s leader, Xi Jinping. The Chinese leader said his nation doesn’t have a drug problem because drug dealers know they will be executed if caught.
Each drug dealer “will kill approximately 500 people during the course of his or her life,” Trump said, offering that as justification for the death penalty. But, he conceded, “I don’t know if this country is ready for it.”
Baier then pointed out Johnson and said, “She’d be killed under your plan.”
But Trump said Johnson would not have been involved in drug activity if the death penalty had been in place. He also said, “She wasn’t much of a ‘dealer,’” and the system treated her “very unfairly.”
Saving Debate for Biden
Baier wrapped up the interview by asking Trump if he still intended to skip the debates with a crowded field of GOP presidential hopefuls. Baier and fellow Fox News host Martha MacCallum will serve as moderators for the first debate, which is set for Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—a battleground state where the party’s nominating convention will be held in 2024.
“I like to debate,” Trump said. But he sees no advantage to participating in such a contest if he remains the clear frontrunner for his party’s presidential nomination.
“Why would I let these people take shots at me?” Trump said. Some of the candidates are trailing so far behind, “they’re wasting everyone’s time, and they know it,” Trump said.
However, assuming that Biden is the Democrat Party’s nominee, “He and I definitely have to debate.” The Democratic National Committee has planned no primary election debates for Biden and his challengers.
Trump asserted that his wife, Melania, is supportive of his efforts to seek the presidency. She wants him to do whatever he needs to do to fight the various investigations and charges he has been facing, Trump said.
“She is a woman of great dignity and beauty and style,” Trump said, noting that people at his “massive” rallies often carry placards supporting Melania. “She’s a very confident person, and she feels I’m being very badly mistreated.”