Trump addresses ethics, Russia in testy press conference
In his first press conference in six months, a combative Donald Trump said this week that he will not divest himself of his business empire to avoid potential conflicts of interest as president, but will instead put his assets in a trust to be overseen by his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, and an independent ethics officer. “I could run my business and run the government at the same time,” Trump said, noting that presidents are exempt from conflict-of-interest laws. But “I don’t like the way that looks.” To avoid the appearance of impropriety, the Trump Organization will cancel all pending partnerships and won’t make any new foreign business deals. Trump said he had already begun to turn down lucrative business offers, including a $2 billion deal with “a great developer from the Middle East.”
Trump angrily dismissed as “fake news” reports that Russian operatives have collected compromising personal and financial information on him. (See Controversy.) He hinted that U.S. intelligence agencies might have orchestrated the release of the Russia story to undercut him, and said it “would be a tremendous blot on their record, if they in fact did that.” Trump insisted that he has “no dealings with Russia”—including no loans or business ties. And while he accepted that the Kremlin probably did steal and leak emails from senior Democrats during the presidential election, he said wasn’t troubled that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have preferred him to Hillary Clinton. “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset.”
What the columnists said
“Trump’s first press conference as president-elect was a disgrace,” said Alex Shephard in NewRepublic.com. He steamrolled over reasonable questions and dismissed reporters’ legitimate concerns about the links between his business, the presidency, and Russia. His strategy is to treat the media as “hostile actors bent on undermining his presidency.” At one point he warned ominously that BuzzFeed.com would “suffer the consequences” for publishing unverified claims about his behavior in Russia.
Come on, the president-elect “nailed it,” said Timothy Stanley in CNN.com. Was his bullying, scorched-earth approach unpresidential? Sure. “Unpopular? I suspect not,” especially among conservatives who deeply distrust the mainstream media. What a change from Barack Obama, who capped off his presidency with a typically professorial moral lecture. By contrast, Trump “just gets down to business. It’s frequently disingenuous and often ugly—but it’s compelling.”
Will anyone buy Trump’s non-solution to his many conflicts of interest? asked Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. His sons can in no way be considered “independent” trustees. What’s to stop them discussing business at the dinner table or asking Trump to use his office to help the family firm or a friendly foreign government? If Republicans let him get away with this, “the resulting minefield of potential corruption is likely to blow up the Trump presidency and their own political fortunes.”