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Here's what Trump said on Tuesday, according to a transcript from the Times:
"I was honored yesterday, I got a call from Bill Gates, great call, we had a great conversation, I got a call from Tim Cook at Apple, and I said, 'Tim, you know one of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States, where instead of going to China, and going to Vietnam, and going to the places that you go to, you're making your product right here.' He said, 'I understand that.' I said: 'I think we'll create the incentives for you, and I think you're going to do it. We're going for a very large tax cut for corporations, which you'll be happy about.' "
We don't know Cook's side of the conversation, though CNBC has reached out to Apple for comment. In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday, Trump told Times reporters that by cutting regulations, bringing production back to the United States would boost jobs and further America's position in the robotics industry.
Trump promised during his campaign to lower the business tax rate to 15 percent and allow the one-time repatriation of corporate profits held offshore at a tax rate of 10 percent. With a 26 percent tax rate and $216 billion stored offshore, Apple could be the biggest beneficiary in tech of the policies, according to Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi. Cook has said he would love to repatriate Apple's cash, if not for the "unreasonable, " "backward" and "awful " tax rate.
"I tell you, one thing I would say, so, I'm giving a big tax cut and I'm giving big regulation cuts, and I've seen all of the small business owners over the United States, and all of the big business owners, I've met so many people," Trump told the Times. "They are more excited about the regulation cut than about the tax cut. And I would've never said that's possible, because the tax cut's going to be substantial. You know we have companies leaving our country because the taxes are too high. But they're leaving also because of the regulations."
But Trump has also proposed adding one regulation — tariffs on trade with China — that Deutsche Bank said could hurt Apple more than any other technology company. Apple's supplier dossier lists about 350 addresses in China, and Greater China is the company's third-biggest market, behind Europe and the United States.
Cook has been credited for finding the best suppliers and talent around the world since he arrived at Apple, slashing inventory costs and halving the production time for computers, according to biographer Walter Isaacson. The feat earned him a place as one of Steve Jobs' top deputies, before being named CEO.
Returning manufacturing to the United States — likely a costly proposition for Apple — might cause jobs to be replaced by robots, Trump said. But those robots would also be American made in the Rust Belt, Trump added in the contentious meeting with the Times.
"Right now we don't make the robots," Trump said. "We don't make anything. But we're going to, I mean, look, robotics is becoming very big and we're going to do that. We're going to have more factories. We can't lose 70,000 factories. Just can't do it. We're going to start making things."