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Encore: How Trump Teases, Threatens And Dodges With 'We'll See What Happens'

Dec 26, 2017
Originally published on December 28, 2017 9:39 am

But what do these constant teases mean for the presidency?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In public remarks, you'll notice that President Trump often turns to catch phrases like big league and believe me. Well, White House correspondent Tamara Keith noticed another set of words that Trump uses often, words that create suspense often around very serious matters.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Listen for it, and then you'll hear it constantly.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will see what happens pretty soon. A lot of people are guessing, but maybe there's not so much guessing.

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TRUMP: We will see what happens with Iran.

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TRUMP: So let's see what happens.

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TRUMP: We'll see what happens - going to be very close vote.

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TRUMP: And I think something could happen. We'll see what happens, but something will happen.

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TRUMP: And we'll see what happens, OK?

KEITH: It can be a veiled threat...

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TRUMP: We're going to see what happens with North Korea. That's all I can say. We're going to see what happens.

KEITH: ...An admission that he really doesn't know how things are going to turn out...

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TRUMP: There's a new and seems to be record-breaking hurricane heading right toward Florida and Puerto Rico and other places. We'll see what happens. We'll know in a very short period of time.

KEITH: ...Or simply a way to blow off the person asking the question, like in this January interview with ABC's David Muir, who was asking about Trump's assertion that the U.S. should have taken the oil following the invasion of Iraq.

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DAVID MUIR: What got my attention, Mr. President, was when you said, maybe we'll have another chance.

TRUMP: Well, don't let it get your attention too much because we'll see what happens. I mean, we're going to see what happens. You know, I told you, and I told everybody else that wants to talk. When it comes to the military, I don't want to discuss things.

KEITH: Other times, President Trump clearly knows the answer and just doesn't want to say. And it can be hard to tell which of those it is.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: When Donald says, we'll see, what he's really trying to do is get you off-balance and at the same time avoid answering the question.

KEITH: David Cay Johnston is author of "The Making Of Donald Trump" and has covered Trump for almost 30 years. He says with this phrase, Trump is creating uncertainty.

JOHNSTON: Which may be because he doesn't have an answer. It may be because he's not sure he understands the question or a host of other reasons. But it puts him in the position of power, and it destabilizes your thinking, whether it's you directly as the journalist he's talking to or the broader audience or the head of state in another nation.

KEITH: There is one other circumstance when Trump turns to this phrase - when talking about people who are about to get fired. This is Trump on Fox Business Channel talking about former FBI Director James Comey about a month before he got the ax.

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TRUMP: You know, I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens.

KEITH: Here he is at a press conference in Trump Tower talking about Steve Bannon a few days before he was out as chief strategist...

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TRUMP: We'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon, but he's a good person. And I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.

KEITH: ...And on the South Lawn of the White House, talking about former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

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TRUMP: We'll see what happens. We'll see what happens.

KEITH: It's a little hard to hear over the sound of Marine One, but within about an hour of Trump saying, we'll see what happens, Price was out, which is to say, sometimes we'll see what happens is code for pack your things. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.