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With NFL's anthem protests in past, Trump spikes the ball

President Donald Trump boarding Air Force One with

President Donald Trump boarding Air Force One with his son Barron Trump in Maryland on Friday. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Brendan Smialowski

'They like me a lot'

Donald Trump found reason to be upset by the uproar over Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook photo page showing a man in blackface and another dressed as a Klansman. But for the president, it was less about the racism of the image than why the Republicans didn't beat Democrat Northam in 2017.

"Ed Gillespie, who ran for Governor of the Great State of Virginia against Ralph Northam, must now be thinking Malpractice and Dereliction of Duty with regard to his Opposition Research Staff. If they find that terrible picture before the election, he wins by 20 points!" Trump tweeted Saturday night.

Trump defended himself against accusations of racial insensitivity (or worse) in an extensive pre-Super Bowl interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" host Margaret Brennan.

The session was recorded Friday, before the Northam controversy blew up, but revisited Trump's 2017 war with the NFL over players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans. The president told an Alabama rally in September 2017: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of our NFL owners when someone disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now ... he’s fired!’ ”

Trump says now (he didn't say so then) that he understood the players' motivation. He touted his signing of a criminal justice reform law (which deals with incarceration, not violent confrontations with police.) "I got it done and ... a lot of people in the NFL have been calling and thanking me for it," Trump claimed. The White House did not respond to questions from The Associated Press for information on who reached out to the president.

Pleased that the anthem protests have faded, Trump said, "They have been respecting the flag and their ratings have been terrific ever since," he said.

Trump brushed off a CBS News poll that found 63% of Americans disapprove of how he handles issues of race and race relations, bringing up his stock answer taking credit for lowering unemployment among African-Americans. "And I think they like me a lot and I like them a lot," he said. Click here for video of Trump's NFL comments.

It dawns on Trump: Football's dangerous

For years, disregarding mounting evidence of NFL players suffering lasting, debilitating injury and even opioid addiction because of pain, Trump wasn't having it. He said the game was getting too soft.

"They are ruining the game," he said about tougher penalty calling in September 2017. "Look, that's what [players] want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit." The year before, he said mockingly: "Concussion? Oh, got a little ding on the head, no, no, you can't play for the rest of the season."

But Trump said in the CBS interview he'd rather his 12-year-old son Barron didn't play football. "If he wanted to? Yes. Would I steer him that way? No, I wouldn't," he said.

"I just don't like the reports that I see coming out having to do with football — I mean, it's a dangerous sport and I think it's — I — it's — really tough, I thought the equipment would get better, and it has. The helmets have gotten far better, but it hasn't solved the problem," Trump added. Barron is more interested in soccer, he said. (Click here for video.)

Let all see Mueller? He mulls

Trump hedged in the interview when asked whether the results of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation should be made public.

“It depends. I have no idea what it's going to say,” he said. The decision, Trump said, would be "totally up to the attorney general." His nominee to head the Justice Department, William Barr, told a Senate panel last month his “goal” would be to release as much information “as I can consistent with the law.”

Trump also said he hasn't thought about the possibility of a pardon for Roger Stone, his recently indicted longtime confidant, but he got defensive: "First of all, Roger Stone didn't work on the campaign, except way, way at the beginning long before we're talking about."

Then he said of Stone: "It looks like he's defending himself very well." See Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez. For a full transcript of the CBS interview, click here.

Janison: Eraserhead

Trump's announcement of plans to pull out of the last big nuclear arms agreement with Russia is his latest effort to undo the recent and not-so-recent past. Not all have been completely accomplished.

From the Obama era, there was the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement (done, but some states are still seeking to abide by the goals) and the attempted repeal of Obamacare (the individual mandate is gone, but much remains) and DACA (the courts for now have stopped him.).

The Russia nuclear treaty was a legacy of the Reagan-Bush 41 era. So is NAFTA, and Trump says he's negotiated a better deal with Canada and Mexico to replace it, but its future in Congress is uncertain. See Dan Janison's column for Newsday.

Dis and intel

Last week, Trump said the nation's intelligence chiefs should "go back to school" after they aired views contradicting him on Iran, North Korea and other hot spots. Then he met with them, said they were "misquoted" (no, it was live testimony) and declared, "we are all on the same page!”

A day later, he turned the page again in the CBS interview. “I have intel people, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree,” Trump said. "My intelligence people, if they said in fact that Iran is a wonderful kindergarten, I disagree with them 100 percent," he said. He also spoke more optimistically of a North Korea nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, Time magazine, citing intelligence officers and briefers as sources, said Trump displays "willful ignorance" and reacts angrily when he is given information that contradicts positions he has taken or beliefs he holds. Not that he doesn't ask questions.

During a briefing on the strategically important Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia, Trump asked: Are the people nice, and are the beaches good? In another briefing about South Asia, the Time report said, Trump volunteered that Bhutan and Nepal were part of India. No, they're separate countries.

Another diplo-mess

Trump sounded off on CBS that it is important to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq "because Iran is a real problem." 

But Iraqi President Barham Salih said Monday that Trump did not ask Iraq’s permission for troops to be "watching Iran."

“Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,” Salih said. “The U.S. is a major power ... but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here.”

What's the emergency?

A CBS poll found 66% of Americans overall say President Trump should not declare a national emergency if Congress does not fund a border wall, although 73% of Republicans think he should.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a member of the bipartisan group of lawmakers charged with striking a deal on immigration measures, said on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump “would be forced” to declare a national emergency to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, if Congress cannot broker an agreement.

What else is happening:

  • Axios obtained Trump's private schedules for the past three months and found 60% of his days are devoted to "executive time." Those are unstructured hours for him to call friends, aides, outside advisers and members of Congress. Also, reading the papers. Also, there's plenty of time for watching TV.
  • The Axios report infuriated Trump's director of Oval Office operations, Madeleine Westerhout: "What a disgraceful breach of trust to leak schedules. What these don’t show are the hundreds of calls and meetings @realDonaldTrump takes everyday. This POTUS is working harder for the American people than anyone in recent history."
  • Trump's consistently orange/tan glow even in the dead of winter is a mystery. The New York Times reports its sources deny there's a White House tanning bed. The use of creams or lotions are plausible. A senior official's explanation: “good genes."
  • Trump is scheduled to get his annual physical Friday. Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician who pronounced him in great health a year ago, has been named by Trump as an assistant and chief medical adviser. Jackson's nomination to head the VA was withdrawn amid allegations of professional misconduct.
  • Polls suggest that soak-the-rich tax plans poll well in both parties despite warnings of "socialism" in Washington, according to Politico.
  • Los Angeles prosecutors said they will not be filing charges against Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti, who was arrested last November on suspicion of felony domestic violence.
  • Super Bowl Sunday marked the start of the one-year countdown to the Iowa caucuses in the next presidential race. The date is Feb. 3, 2020.

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