Jack Taylor/WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- President Donald Trump sought to refute on Friday that he criticized British Prime Minister Theresa May in an interview with a British tabloid in which the president politically undercut May while she battles to maintain control of her government.
"I didn't criticize the prime minister. I have a lot of respect for the prime minister," President Trump said, going on to criticize the story, which he said did not include his comments of praise for May and suggesting the White House may release a full recording of the interview.
"I said tremendous things. Fortunately, we tend to record stories now, so we have it for your enjoyment if you would like it. We record when we deal with reporters. It's called fake news, and we solve a lot of problems with the good old reporting instrument," Trump said.
Later in the interview, the president continued his ongoing feud with the media by not taking a question from a CNN reporter.
Trump was critical of May's handling of Britain's efforts to exit the European Union in the interview, telling The Sun that May did not listen to his advice and suggesting that if May persists in her "soft" Brexit plan, it will jeopardize any potential trade deal between the United States and Britain.
"If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal," Trump said in the interview.
But on Friday, the president struck a far more friendly tone and said the U.S. will be okay with whatever plan May pursues so long as it's possible for the U.S. to make trade deals.
"She's going to make a decision as to what she will do. The only thing I ask of Theresa is that we make sure we can trade, that we don't have any restrictions, because we want to trade with the U.K., and the U.K. wants to trade with us. We are by far their biggest trading partner. We have a tremendous opportunity to double, triple, quadruple that."
The president also criticized German Prime Minister Angela Merkel for the country's immigration laws, defending his comments about immigration, in which he said immigration was ruining the culture of Europe.
"I know it's politically not correct to say that, and I'll say that and say it loud," Trump said.
"We have very bad immigration laws," Trump said of American immigration policy. "We're doing very well considering the fact that we don't have immigration laws."
May then commented that the U.K. has "a proud history of welcoming people who want to contribute to our society."
Whatever conversations the two leaders may have had behind the scenes regarding the president's protocol-breaching comments on May in The Sun interview, the two leaders showed no signs of strain in their relationship before cameras on Friday.
May, in a nod to the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom, rolled out the red carpet for President Donald Trump throughout his first official visit to the U.K., kicking off with a black-tie gala at Blenheim Palace.
But that special relationship appeared on the rocks early Friday following Trump’s stunning interview with The Sun and set off a series of awkward interactions with reporters, who pressed the two leaders on the comments on multiple occasions.
In their first event before cameras on Friday, Trump rolled his eyes and looked irritated when asked if he regrets the comments he made to the British tabloid while sitting next to May at her country estate Chequers. May also showed an irritated expression when the question was raised.
Before the policy meeting started, Trump called the U.K.-U.S. connection "very strong."
“The relationship is very, very strong. We have a very good relationship,” Trump said.
May told reporters the two would be discussing “our special relationship, which is great between the U.K. and the United States.”
“We’re going to discuss the real opportunity we’ve got on a trade deal coming. And, of course, we’ll discuss the defense relationship,” May said.
Trump told The Sun that if May pursues her "soft" Brexit plan, it will jeopardize any potential trade deal between the United States and Britain.
"If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal," Trump said.
Trump’s visit to the U.K. comes after he cannonballed into the NATO summit by demanding that allies spend more on defense, ordering a special summit meeting to talk about spending, and monopolizing media coverage with an impromptu press conference.
“The president did a very good job at NATO encouraging others to spend,” May said.
On Friday night, the president and first lady Melania Trump were welcomed in grand style to Blenheim for a special dinner with May. The Trumps appeared to enjoy themselves so much that they stayed longer than scheduled.
“We had a dinner, where I think we probably developed a better relationship. We spoke for an hour, an hour and a half. It was really something,” Trump said.
But just as the dinner wrapped and the guests in their tuxedos and gowns left the estate, The Sun ran its interview with Trump. The president’s searing critiques of the prime minister and her “soft” Brexit plan sent immediate shockwaves across U.K.
The White House scrambled to clean up Trump’s comments.
“The president likes and respects Prime Minister May very much. As he said in his interview with The Sun, she 'is a very good person' and he 'never said anything bad about her,'" White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person. He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the prime minister here in the U.K.”
The morning after, cameras were not allowed to capture the first interaction between May and Trump at Sandhurst, and the White House did not provide a readout of how their first handshake of the day went or whether Trump’s comments were brought up.
Still, a U.K. official told ABC News that May and Trump have an “open and honest relationship."
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