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Trump Talks To Reporters About Russia Probe, DACA Recipients

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Reporters were talking with a White House official when the boss walked in. President Trump unexpectedly took questions. And in response to those questions, he said he is willing to meet with Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia's participation in the 2016 presidential campaign. The president added he would do that under oath. The apparent confidence matches his insistence that he's done nothing wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's been no collusion whatsoever. There's no obstruction whatsoever. And I'm looking forward to it.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson was in the room. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention this happens with a lot of presidents. Reporters - you're are in the White House. The president just unexpectedly drops in. How's the room change when he walks into a room?

LIASSON: Well, the room changes. You don't want to talk to that senior White House official. You want...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

LIASSON: ...To talk about the guy himself. And there becomes a scrum, and everybody kind of presses in to hear what he has to say. And with Donald Trump, you never know what he has to say. So a lot of suspense.

INSKEEP: Well, in this case, he is asked about Robert Mueller. Did he mean it when he said he would take questions under oath?

LIASSON: I have no idea whether he meant it or not. I can tell you what he said. He said, I would do it under oath. He said, quote, "I'm looking forward to it." He said, I would love to do that. And then, of course, he said subject to my lawyers and all of that. And later on, one of his lawyers, Ty Cobb, did issue a statement saying that Trump was not volunteering to go before a grand jury. So...

INSKEEP: Oh.

LIASSON: ...We'll see.

INSKEEP: So in other words, his personal lawyers will still want to negotiate the terms under which he says anything..

LIASSON: Yes, yes.

INSKEEP: ...That he may have said.

LIASSON: But the president was pretty emphatic - I would do it under oath.

INSKEEP: What else did the president say?

LIASSON: Well, the other thing that I thought was interesting is he began to defend himself against obstruction charges in a new way. He suggested that just fighting back, or defending himself, against the allegations is being misinterpreted as obstruction. He said, did he fight back? You fight back, and they say, oh, it's obstruction. So presumably, he's talking about firing Jim Comey.

INSKEEP: Yeah, exactly. The question is, how did you fight back? That's what..

LIASSON: Right.

INSKEEP: ...The special counsel may want to know.

I should mention, Mara, that you were originally in the room talking with a White House official about immigration. And it seems that reporters also asked the president about that since, of course, it's a very big deal right now.

LIASSON: And he made a lot of news. He said he was open to a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Over a period of 10 to 12 years, somebody does a great job, they've worked hard - it gives incentive to do a great job. But they've worked hard. They've done terrifically, whether they have a little company or whether they work. Or - whatever they're doing, if they do a great job, I think it's a nice thing to have the incentive of, after a period of years, being able to become a citizen.

INSKEEP: DACA recipients, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the people brought here as children whose protected status is about to expire - he wants them to be able to stay here as citizens perhaps.

LIASSON: Right. He said, quote, "it's going to happen at some point in the future." He made news on other elements of a deal. He said on the issue of family migration - what he calls chain migration - he wants a new standard. He said, you can't bring everyone you've ever met into the country, but he said you'd have wives, husbands, sons and daughters allowed to come in. He said he wanted a new standard on that. He said he wanted the visa lottery system either gone or replaced. That's a little more flexible. He wants $25 billion for 800 miles of wall. All of those things are very similar to what the bipartisan group of senators is talking about on Capitol Hill.

INSKEEP: Although that last point, the wall - Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, at one point said he was willing to at least start paying for that but says that's now off the table after the president backed away of his parts of the deal.

LIASSON: Right. But he said that's because the president didn't take the deal he was offering him. But that will be part of any final deal. And what's interesting is the president got some praise from Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham and criticism from Steve King, the hard-liner in the House. So you can see what the president is going to have to do if he is going to truly make this deal.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson - thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.