President Donald Trump released 38 minutes of his contentious "60 Minutes" interview with Lesley Stahl on his Facebook page Thursday, calling it "fake and biased." The news program aired its interview Sunday night, delving into the question of why Trump abruptly cut off the White House interview.
Stahl seemed surprised when the visibly vexed Trump did not return for a planned second portion of the sit-down interview, a "60 Minutes" tradition with major party presidential and vice presidential candidates, prior to the Nov. 3 election.
Instead, Vice President Mike Pence came alone to sit with Stahl for the remainder of the discussion in the White House Roosevelt Room and explain the president's absence.
"What just happened with the president?" Stahl asked Pence.
"President Trump is a man who speaks his mind, it’s one of the great strengths that he’s had as president of the United States, that the American people know where they stand," Pence said in explanation. "It’s less about the back-and-forth with the media, and it’s more about how we bring the country all the way back."
The "60 Minutes" episode averaged 16.8 million viewers, CBS said Monday, citing Nielsen data, which marks the news program's largest audience since the March 2018 interview with porn star Stormy Daniels, who had a 2006 extra-marital relationship with Trump.
'You're discrediting yourself': Trump releases '60 Minutes' tape of contentious interview with Lesley Stahl
Stahl led off the Sunday evening broadcast promising to answer, "What happened when the president left the room," in "what has become an all-too-public dust-up."
She added that she had hoped the interview would be "more productive."
"It began politely. It ended regrettably, contentiously," said Stahl.
But the exchange between Trump and Stahl, as seen in the video excerpts that Trump had released prior to Sunday, was fraught from the first moments.
"Are you ready for some tough questions?" Stahl asked the president as he sat down and adjusted his suit.
"You’re going to be fair. Just be fair," Trump responded.
"I'm going to be fair," Stahl said. "But you're okay with some tough questions?"
The first question was about COVID-19: "We have a pandemic on your watch, we’ve had racial strife, we’ve had looting. Why do you want this job, why do you want to be president again?" Stahl asked.
Minutes later, Trump referred to a line of inquiry about his appeals to suburban women voters as "such a misleading question" and continued a refrain of claiming Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, also interviewed by "60 Minutes," received "softball after softball" in past interviews.
With each discussion topic – from his promised health care plan, to Trump campaign rally chants of "lock her up" over former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton – Trump could be seen growing more agitated. During a discussion on mask-wearing at his campaign events, Stahl said the president was not encouraging safe conduct and that his events were less crowded than in the past.
"You just come in here with that negative attitude. These are the biggest rallies we’ve ever had," said Trump, who eventually insisted on moving on with, "What's your next question?"
The final exchange dealt with Trump's use of the term "fake news," which Stahl said was simply stated to unfairly discredit the media to the public.
"I don't have to discredit you, you've discredited yourself," Trump said.
"You know, I didn't want to have this kind of angry …" Stahl said before getting cut off.
"Of course you did," said Trump. "You brought up a lot of subjects that were inappropriately brought up."
When a "60 Minutes" producer broke in to discuss time, Trump called a halt to the interview.
"I think we have enough of an interview here, that’s enough. Let’s go," said Trump, who exited so quickly that Stahl had to advise him to "be careful" about the low-hanging TV lights.
Stahl said Sunday that Trump and Pence were going to sit down together and speak, and that she and the president were due to walk around the White House grounds. But instead of Trump returning, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany brought a massive folder, calling it the president's health care plan.
Stahl noted the folder was "filled with executive orders, congressional initiatives, but no comprehensive health plan."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: '60 Minutes' airs President Trump's contentious Lesley Stahl interview