Apparently upset over the line of questioning he was receiving from CBS News’s Lesley Stahl, President Donald Trump abruptly ended an interview on Tuesday with the veteran journalist that was set to air on “60 Minutes” over the weekend.
Stahl was interviewing both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a special pre-election episode of the program. The show is also set to feature separate interviews for Democratic nominees for president and vice president, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, respectively.
Trump, who had sat with Stahl for just over 40 minutes for the segment, refused to return to finish his interview after a short break. He also refused to film a “walk and talk” scene for the program.
According to one source familiar with what transpired, the president had been visibly upset with the questions Stahl had asked him during the interview. A second source described Trump’s reaction in more vivid detail, calling him “pissed” at what Stahl had asked him during the segment.
After prematurely ending the interview, Trump shared footage of Stahl on social media, which showed her not wearing a mask while speaking to the program’s producers at the White House, suggesting that Stahl was being hypocritical when she criticized the president over his own resistance to using a mask.
“Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes not wearing a mask in the White House after her interview with me,” Trump tweeted out. “Much more to come.”
Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes not wearing a mask in the White House after her interview with me. Much more to come. pic.twitter.com/0plZG6a4fH
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2020
The video shown is taken out of context, according to those who were there. In fact, the footage that Trump shared was filmed by White House staff, and had occurred only minutes after it was announced the president was ending the interview. Stahl had also been tested for coronavirus prior to her arrival at the White House, and had worn a mask at all other times while on the grounds, according to those who saw her there.
“This image is from immediately following the interview with the CBS team, who had all been tested. Lesley had a mask on leading into the interviews, as appropriate,” a source familiar with the footage explained.
Later, Trump threatened to share more footage from his interactions with Stahl, purportedly to further embarrass her.
“I am pleased to inform you that, for the sake of accuracy in reporting, I am considering posting my interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, PRIOR TO AIRTIME!” Trump wrote in another Twitter post. “This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about.”
If Trump made good on that threat, he would be violating an agreement the White House had made with the organization to film some footage “for archival purposes only,” according to a CBS spokesperson.
Others within the company suggested that Trump’s behavior had more to do with his dislike of the questions he was being asked rather than any unfair treatment Stahl supposedly meted out.
“I’m guessing from this tweet that Stahl asked really tough questions, like she did in her last interview, which was one of the best with Trump to date,” CBS News White House correspondent Kathryn Watson said.
The friction between Trump and Stahl is not unique, as Trump has displayed similar behavior in his dealings with other reporters and news organizations. The fact that it comes less than two weeks before Election Day 2020 (although a sizable portion of the U.S. voting population has already cast a ballot) is likely concerning for members of the president’s reelection campaign team, who have tried, often unsuccessfully, to steer him in a different direction.
Anticipating that the final debate between Trump and Biden, set to happen on Thursday night, will be the last chance for the president to make a good impression with voters, several members of his campaign have told him he needs to appear more likable to voters if he’s to have a shot at winning reelection.
“All Trump has to do is give people permission to vote for him,” one adviser said of Trump and his strategy in the upcoming debate.
However, in the last couple of days, Trump has gone out of his way to criticize Kristen Welker, the NBC News White House correspondent who will be moderating the debate, and expressed his misgivings about her professionalism and her ability to do the job.
In a tweet this past weekend, Trump attacked Welker’s character, saying, “She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters.”
However, Trump’s mistrust of Welker is apparently not shared by others in his campaign team, as one of them has gone on record to describe Welker as “a journalist who is very fair in her approach.”