6:15 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, everybody. This is a group gathering of very talented people. And somebody was saying before, I think Mark Esper, our new Secretary of Defense — and, by the way, congratulations.
SECRETARY ESPER: Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Congratulations on really having done already a really great job. But you were saying this is the first group where just about everybody — they’re appointed by Trump. And that’s good. That’s good. Just about everybody. So we have the people that we want. We’re very happy with them.
Our military is in great shape. I want to — in particular, I want to congratulate Mark for new — the new boss, right? You’re the new boss. And it’s some somebody that’s respected by everybody in this room and respected by just about everybody outside of this room, I can tell you. So, Joint Chiefs of Staff. The head is — that’s — it doesn’t get any bigger in your world.
But we are having a meeting tonight. We have a meeting now, and then we’re going to the White House and we’re going to have dinner with the wives and families. And we’re going to have some very interesting conversation.
Things are going very well with our military. We’ve spent $2.5 trillion since I’ve been President, and rebuilt our military. When I came in, we were low on ammunition and, as you know, we had jets that didn’t work too well. We had a lot of — a lot of old planes, and we have now, beautiful new planes, or certainly we have a lot of them coming, but we have a lot of them right now in stock.
And we’re — we’re doing things I think that nobody thought was possible. We have had extraordinary relationships with a lot of our allies and, I would say, good relationships with others. But we want fairness, we want — we want to be treated respectfully. We help a lot of nations, and they are not — they’re not sometimes there for us. So we want to help the ones that — that we want, and we want to help the ones that deserve the help. And I think we’ve discussed this at length, all of us. Perhaps there’ll be some changes made, and perhaps not. But we have to be respected as a nation.
A lot of things are changing. You have some very, very wealthy nations, extremely wealthy nations, where we take care of their military and we take care of their military needs. Nobody can do it better than us. But we are really not being reimbursed for what we’re doing.
And we’re having some very nice talks, very friendly talks. And for the most part, I would say, without exception, people are coming through and they’re saying, “You know, we have to help out also.”
So a lot of very exciting things are happening with our military. We have a great team. This is our team right here. They’re some of the best leaders in the world. I think they’re probably the best leaders in the world. We have the greatest men, we have the greatest women, and we have the greatest equipment. Nobody makes it like we do.
So I just want to thank you all. We’ll have a discussion. Then we’re going to go over and have dinner at the White House. And thank you all very much for being here. Appreciate it.
Q Mr. President, are you confident that — are you confident that these gentlemen — I guess, mostly who are sitting around you — believe what you’re doing in Syria is the best idea at this point?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’ve been in Syria for a long time.
And it was supposed to be a very short hit, and — hit on ISIS. But it didn’t work out that way. They never left. And they’ve been there for many, many years. And we are — we were down to very few soldiers in Syria. We had 50 in the region that you’re talking about — 50 soldiers — and they’ve been already moved out.
But we’ll see what happens with respect to a lot of different things. We’ve told Turkey — I spoke with President Erdoğan of Turkey, and I said, “Got to treat them good, and you got to take care of ISIS.” Don’t forget, we’ve captured — we defeated — this group, largely — defeated ISIS. One hundred percent of the caliphate. One hundred percent. And we wanted to do 100 percent. I was going to do this nine months ago, and we were not at 100 percent, but we were pretty close. Everyone said, “Can we get to 100 percent?” Now I get to 100 percent, and they say, “Well, maybe we could stay longer.” I say, “Well, when do we get out?” There’s got to be a time we get out. We have to bring our people back home.
And frankly, our great soldiers have been talking about this on the campaign. You go back three years ago and more, and you watch the speeches. We want to bring our soldiers back home. These are the endless wars.
And we’re not fighting; we’re policing, to a large extent. We’re policing in certain areas. We’re not police, we’re — these are fighters, great fighters; the greatest in the world. And that’s what they do.
So I’ve told President Erdoğan — I hope he’s going to treat everybody with great respect. You have to understand, they’ve been fighting various of the people that we were working with, and they — Turkey has been fighting them for many years. Somebody said hundreds of years. You had just mentioned to me yesterday, 200 years, maybe more.
At some point, we have to bring our people back home. And that’s what we’re doing. That’s what we’re doing.
Q Is it a firm decision, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s always a firm decision. Last time I made a firm decision, but — and I said, “We’ll do it over a period of time.” We’ve been doing this, actually, over a period of time — over a very long period of time. And we’ve been working with the people in this room, and our soldiers have been coming back over that period of time.
I think that one of the very big factors when we defeated ISIS — we have thousands right now, of ISIS fighters and families. We have family members, wives, children. And many of them come out of Europe, they come out of Germany, they come out of France and other countries of Europe, and I told them, “You have to take these people back.” You have to take them back, give them trials, do whatever you have to do. And they said, “No, we don’t want to do that. I said, “Well, you have to do that.” That’s not fair to the American taxpayers. It’s not fair to America. It’s not fair to the United States not to do that. But they chose not to do it. I said, “Again, you got to take them back.” We can’t take care of sixty, seventy thousand people.
And we’re not going to move the fighters to Guantanamo Bay and take care of them for many, many years into the future. It’s not for us. We did you a great service, a great favor. We defeated the caliphate 100 percent, and now it’s time for Germany and France, and all of the nations where they came from, to take them back. And they chose no. And maybe they’ll — maybe they’re going to change their tune now. I don’t know.
But in the meantime, we’ll have to rely on the European nations. We’ll have to rely on various other nations — as an example, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Russia, and some other nations — to take care of these fighters. But the American taxpayer is not going to spend 50 years of paying tax, or whatever it may be that they’re — wherever they may be, for instance, Guantanamo, or, for instance, prisons in the United States. The American taxpayer won’t put up with that.
Q Mr. President, are you concerned with what the second whistleblower may reveal about your conversation with Ukraine?
THE PRESIDENT: Not at all, because the call was a perfect call. You had stenographers, you had people that took it down exactly. It was a perfect call. It’s just a scam. This is a scam by the Democrats to try and win an election that they’re not going to win in 2020.
All you have to do is take a look at the polls, see what happened. One poll had me up 12 points, 16 points, or 17 points.
We — just take a look at what’s going on. The people understand it’s a scam. They’re trying to win an election in 2020 by using impeachment. If you look at that call, it’s a perfect call. It’s congenial. There was no pressure. And what did the head of Ukraine say? What did the head — did he say there was no pressure? Did his person say — his top representative, his foreign minister, say there was no pressure whatsoever. There was no pressure put on him. This is a scam. This is one of the greatest scams we —
Look, we beat you on the — we won on the Mueller scam. That was a whole big deal. That lasted for two and a half years. We had a few days of peace and then, all of a sudden, they came up with this one. But I guess it’s just part of my life. This is the most ridiculous thing many people have ever seen. All you have to do is read. All you have to do is read what they wrote down, the stenographers. They wrote down an exact call.
Now, what happened is Schiff, Adam Schiff, went up before Congress, and he read the most horrible speech, attributed the speech to me. These people won’t believe this one. If you went to Annapolis, West Point, or the Air Force Academy, you’re not going to believe this one happened. He went up, and he took a speech, and he made it up. It was horrible. And he said, “The President of the United States said this on the call.” It’s a fraud. He real- — I mean, it’s a fraudulent speech. What he did is incredible. And it shouldn’t be allowed. And I don’t think it’s going to be allowed. I think a lot of things are happening.
By the way, Nancy Pelosi knew it was a fraud, and she didn’t say anything about it. But if you look at the call — you just take a look at that call — that call is a very — a terrific call. It’s congenial, there was no pressure, there was no anything. And you know it, and so do I, and so does everybody else. And that’s why the polls are doing well. That’s why — I don’t bring up fundraising, but that’s why, I believe, in the history of the Republican Party at this time, they’ve never had anything like the numbers that have been raised. They raised $13 million in many small donations in a 24-hour period. That hasn’t even happened.
So, people understand that it’s a fraud. It’s a scam. It’s a witch hunt. And all we do is just keep fighting for the American people, because that’s all I do.
We win. Our economy is doing great. Our jobs numbers are the best they’ve ever been. Just about the best they’ve ever been for many groups: African Americans, Asians, Hispanics. They’re the best they’ve ever been in the history of our country. And overall, they’re the best numbers in 51 years.
So, we’re doing great things and we’re going to keep going. Thank you very much.