President Trump on Thursday backtracked from his comment that “in the old days” he might have favored close friends who might want something from the United States government — and then seemed to undermine his own statement.
Asked at a news conference about Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Darren Woods’s statement that the company will give back about $500 million of U.S. government contracts because of tax law changes, Trump stated that such a deal with a longtime business partner “would have never happened.”
“You know when you say ‘old days,’ it was so different,” Trump said. “You know they’d be having meetings with the president, sometimes long meetings — and he could give me something if I gave him something. I would never do that. I’d never do that. But no, they’re paying back the money because the tax deal was much better for them.”
The president was then asked again about his comments and replied, “I didn’t mean a deal. I mean I would never do that. I’ve never done that before, no.”
President Donald Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi watch a video in the Oval Office on Oct. 19. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
At that point, Trump abruptly ended the news conference by saying that the comments to Woodward and other writers were off the record.
Woods was not standing in front of the president at the moment. But when he did walk into the White House Thursday afternoon to express his regret about the decision to pull out of the U.S. energy program’s contributions, he did so as reporters were leaving the room.
“As CEO, I take full responsibility for the decision,” Woods said, according to reporters present.
Trump also clarified that earlier remarks were part of his continuing efforts to broaden the government’s tax base by making America less reliant on foreign oil.
Trump, up through this year, often turned to his tight circle of friends and business associates as sources of sources of information and assistance on subjects that don’t always address business interests and trade deals. It was part of an effort to make his administration more transparent about its dealings.
Woods was the former chairman of the Trump Organization and a long-time personal friend.
Woods’s words came after an exasperated White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, publicly apologized for the president’s remarks earlier in the day.
“It’s ridiculous,” Gidley said of Trump’s remark. “My boss is a strong believer in transparency. So he looks at more than just making policy. He looks at who his friends are, and why they’re the friend and those interactions that occurred between the government and the private sector.”