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Trump Vows To 'Never Withdraw'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn now to one of the few people outside of his inner circle who have spoken to Donald Trump since that video of his vulgar comments went public yesterday. Robert Costa covers politics for The Washington Post. He spoke with Donald Trump on the phone this morning, and he's with us now on the line from The Washington Post newsroom. Robert Costa, thanks so much for joining us.

ROBERT COSTA: Happy to join you.

MARTIN: So can you set the scene for us. How did this interview come about? Where was Donald Trump?

COSTA: Donald Trump was alone in his apartment, high above 5th Avenue at Trump Tower. It was Saturday morning, and he was watching television, as he often does, keeping track of the campaign. And he was watching Republicans defect across the country, almost by a minute by minute basis. And he and I spoke by phone for about 20 minutes. And he was wistful. At times, he was also upbeat. He was talking through his political future and his life. And he said, repeatedly, when I pressed him, he's going to stay in this race.

MARTIN: Now, you've interviewed him before. Have I got that right?

COSTA: Dozens of times.

MARTIN: So how would you contrast his demeanor today with times you've spoken with him in the past?

COSTA: He's a more low-key presence when he's on the telephone, when he doesn't have to have the whole persona that he usually has on television and onstage. So he was somewhat thoughtful. He was talking about life in general. He said, I've been through so much in life, and I've been through so many things in the past. I've made it through.

And I was really trying to get him to get to a clear answer on whether he would quit the race because there's so much pressure. And he immediately dismissed the question. He says, you know me. I don't quit. I never quit. I'm not going to quit. And I said, well, do we have your word on that? Are you really going to stay in this race in spite of anything that happens under any circumstance. He says, you have my word. I'm staying in this race. Zero chance I leave.

MARTIN: He says, I said it. I was wrong, and I apologize. But in his written apology, he also bashed Bill Clinton and said he's heard worse from the former president, which some people took to be kind of defiant and less than a full apology. And so I would ask you how you would calibrate his comments to you. Did he seem defiant? Did he seem genuinely apologetic?

COSTA: Well, I think defiant is certainly the right word. I mean, that just came across in every cadence, every word he had in our conversation. Apologetic, that's not a word I would use. He repeatedly took a shot at his own party, the GOP, for not standing with him today, for all these people breaking away. He said this is why the Republican Party always loses because they back away from some of their leaders and their stars.

When I asked him about Jason Chaffetz, the congressman from Utah who's defected, he said, well, Chaffetz should stop criticizing me and criticize Secretary Clinton. And it just went on and on, Michelle, of Trump not really wanting to talk or reflect about his comments about women, this vulgarity, the offensive remarks, and rather turning the attention instead, in every answer, to Clinton and to his critics in the GOP.

MARTIN: Mike Pence, his running mate, has said that he found those remarks indefensible, and he's also pulled out of representing the campaign at that event in Wisconsin where he was supposed to appear. I don't know whether that had happened at the time that you spoke. But did he speak about his running mate and his running mate's reaction?

COSTA: He said Pence is a friend, and he described Pence as someone who he's in touch with and he spoke with by phone earlier Saturday. But they're not personally close. They're politically aligned. What we're also seeing right now though, is a lot of the party leadership is rallying around Pence - someone who's on the ticket, not close to Trump, and they think he could be an alternative should Trump decide to drop out.

MARTIN: Did he talk about his family or his wife? We know that his daughter is one of his advisers. Did he have anything to say about how they reacted to his comments about women?

COSTA: He didn't speak much about his family. He was with his wife Melania, who was in another part of their large skyscraper penthouse atop Trump Tower. And it was really him alone. And that's something I've always come back to, as a reporter, with Trump. He's close with, of course, with his daughter Ivanka, sons Don and Eric and Tiffany - their other daughter - and their young son Barron - no doubt about it. But this is a man who really is alone at the top in more ways than one, who makes decisions off of his own instincts, not so much by family counsel or by advice of allies and aides.

MARTIN: And just to be clear on this, because you did touch on this earlier, did he seem to have any acknowledgement that his behavior was, in fact, wrong? A number of people have pointed out today that if his behavior was, indeed, as he described it, it's not just about talking or having lewd comments, it's about physically forcing himself. He's describing forcing himself on somebody who doesn't want to be involved with him physically. Did he seem to have any acknowledgement of that?

COSTA: No, that's not the Donald Trump I spoke to today, maybe it will be tomorrow at the debate, maybe it will be at some other point. But the Donald Trump I spoke to today, and I've reported on for two years, is a Donald Trump who does not like to apologize. And he does not think what he did was out of bounds in a serious way - in such a serious way that it threatens his whole candidacy and his career.

Instead, the way he talked about it was locker room banter. He used that phrase again, and he kept coming back to this idea that others who are criticizing him are, quote, "holier than thou," and that they shouldn't really speak to him in some kind of judgmental way. This is a defiant Trump, a somewhat apologetic Trump in the video he issued Friday night, but other than that, it's still Donald Trump as ever - alone, defiant.

MARTIN: Robert Costa is a reporter at The Washington Post. He spoke with Donald Trump this morning. And we reached Robert Costa in his news room at The Washington Post. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

COSTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.