'They're dying … it is what it is': key takeaways from Trump's shocking interview

<span>Photograph: Chris Kleponis/EPA</span>
Photograph: Chris Kleponis/EPA

Donald Trump stumbled through his second damaging interview in as many weeks, floundering in a conversation with the news website Axios over key issues he is tasked with responding to as president.

It’s been just over two weeks since the president made a series of shocking statements in a one-on-one interview with Fox News, but he packed another host of extraordinary claims into a 37-minute interview released on Monday night by Axios.

Here are the eight most glaring things Trump said to reporter Jonathan Swan.

‘It is what it is’

In a lengthy discussion about the US’s poor response to coronavirus, Trump described the pandemic as “under control”.

Swan responded: “How? A thousand Americans are dying a day.”

“They are dying. That’s true. And you – it is what it is,” Trump said. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it.”

‘You can’t do that’

The president then appeared unable to distinguish between different measurements of coronavirus deaths.

Trump brandished several pieces of paper with graphs and charts.

“United States is lowest in numerous categories. We’re lower than the world. Lower than Europe.”

“In what?” Swan asked. As it becomes apparent that Trump is talking about the number of deaths as a proportion of confirmed Covid-19 cases, Swan said: “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 Germany, South Korea.”

Trump responded: “You can’t do that.”

‘He didn’t come to my inauguration’

Trump downplayed the work of the congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, whose funeral was held last week in Atlanta, Georgia. Instead of Lewis’s legacy, Trump focused on Lewis in relation to himself.

“I never met John Lewis, actually,” Trump said. “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.”

Lewis’s fight for racial equality includes having his skull broken by state troopers during the 1965 Bloody Sunday march in Alabama. As a congressman he worked across the aisle.

‘I did more for the black community than anybody’

Swan pressed for an analysis of systemic racism. Trump said: “I have seen where there is a difference and I don’t want there to be a difference.”

When asked why black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police, the president spoke about how many white people are killed by the police.

Then said: “I did more for the black community than anybody with a possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, whether you like it or not.”

When asked whether he did more than Lyndon B Johnson, who signed into law the Civil Rights Act in 1964 (and the Voting Rights Act in 1965), Trump didn’t really answer the question.

‘I do wish her well’

Trump stood by a 21 July comment where he said “I wish her well” of Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime associate of Jeffrey Epstein who faces federal charges for allegedly enabling the disgraced financier’s sex trafficking of minor girls.

Asked for his thoughts on Maxwell, Trump said, “Yeah, I wish her well. I’d wish you well. I wish a lot of people well.”

Promotes Epstein conspiracy theory

He also promoted the conspiracy theory that Epstein was murdered when he died in a New York jail last August. This has been disputed by the attorney general, William Barr.

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

‘Lots of things can happen’

Trump again attacked mail-in voting, which is expected to occur at higher rates in the November election because of the pandemic.

“It could be decided many months later,” Trump said. “Do you know why? Because lots of things will happen during that period of time. Especially when you have tight margins, lots of things can happen. There’s never been anything like this … Now, of course, right now we have to live with it, but we’re challenging it.”

Related: ‘It could have a chilling effect’: why Trump is ramping up attacks on mail-in voting

‘I have heard that, but it has never reached my desk’

Trump said reports that Russia had been offering bounties to the Taliban for attacks on US forces in Afghanistan were “fake news”. When Swan asked whether Trump had ever discussed the bounties with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Trump said he had not.

When Swan asked Trump about Russia supplying weapons to the Taliban, the president asserted: “I have heard that, but it has never reached my desk.”