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Finnish Journalist Mari Karppinen On How She Decided To Cover Trump's Press Conference


There were many remarkable moments in President Trump's press conference with the president of Finland, Sauli Niinisto, yesterday. But only one drew laughter from the press corps. That was when Finnish journalist Mari Karppinen rose to ask a question.


MARI KARPPINEN: For President Niinisto - because this is the biggest issue here at the moment, I have to ask, what kind of favors has Mr. Trump asked from you?


KELLY: A not-so-subtle allusion to President Trump's now-famous call with the president of Ukraine in which - according to the White House readout of the call - Trump said, I would like you to do us a favor, though.

Mari Karppinen is in the studio with me now. Welcome.

KARPPINEN: Thank you very much.

KELLY: I have to ask - was this your first White House press conference?

KARPPINEN: Actually, my third...

KELLY: Your third, OK.

KARPPINEN: ...But first time I had a chance to ask a question.

KELLY: As you know, you get one shot at thinking what you're going to ask a president when you get the moment to do it. How did you go about trying to figure out what to ask?

KARPPINEN: Well, I wanted to ask about the impeachment inquiry. And I talked with my colleagues, and we all agreed we need to ask, also, from our president, like, what kind of favors Trump might have asked from him. But as we know, basically, when I asked it, Trump didn't let our president answer first. He wanted to answer first.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Or the other way around, you mean?

SAULI NIINISTO: What favors I asked or was asked?

TRUMP: I think you mean the other way around.

KELLY: Were you satisfied with the answer you got?

KARPPINEN: Of course not because, well, Trump tried to turn it around. And our president's answer was very, very careful, diplomatic.


NIINISTO: We had a conversation and discussion on a very equal basis, which is - I really appreciate that.

KARPPINEN: And later on when he met the Finnish press after that, I found out he wasn't very happy about my question at all, actually. But then, also, he had a little regret that he wasn't more direct at the press conference. And he told to the Finnish press that, no, President Trump hasn't asked me any extra favors. He wanted to be very clear about that.

KELLY: Very clear in saying President Trump has not asked him for any...


KELLY: ...Special favors and he hasn't granted any. And this was a readout to the Finnish press afterwards.


KELLY: I want to play you a little bit of one of President Trump's answers to another reporter, an American reporter, Jeff Mason of Reuters, who is part of the White House press corps.


TRUMP: You're corrupt. Much of the media in this country is not just fake; it's corrupt. And you have some very fine people, too - great journalists, great reporters. But to a large extent, it's corrupt and it's fake. Ask the president of Finland a question, please.


KELLY: I wonder what - what was it like to watch that, to hear that from the perspective of a foreign correspondent covering America?

KARPPINEN: Well, of course it's not the first I'm hearing it. I have been here quite many years already. But it feels terrible. And we wanted to actually ask our president at the same press conference how he feels about it. Finland is a very strong country of democratic institutions, like United States is, also.

But some people in Finland would hope that he would be maybe more brave and say something. Like, for example, when we were at the Oval Office, Trump started to say how press is, again, enemy of the people. And our president is sitting there quietly. Of course, I don't know what else he can do. But some people think he should really say something. And you know - and some people think this is the only right way to do, also. Like, he has to respect the president of the United States. He is his guest and et cetera. But that kind of divides the Finnish people, what we think about.

KELLY: Ah, that fine line between being respectful of your host but also standing up for something such as the freedom of the press, which is important in Finland as it is here in the United States.

KARPPINEN: Of course. This is kind of the base of everything of the democracy.

KELLY: That is Mari Karppinen. She's U.S. correspondent for MTV News Finland.

Thanks so much.

KARPPINEN: Thank you very much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.