Trump revives familiar role: Provocateur
It’s been seven months since Donald J. Trump has been at the podium taking questions from reporters. But his bravado, tart taunts of reporters, and his creative use of the facts were as dominant as they were throughout his campaign.
His news conference Wednesday was an arresting contrast to President Barack Obama’s farewell address in Chicago a little over twelve hours earlier. Obama went for elegant oratory, a heartfelt call for reconciliation, and an admonition that “hearts must change.”
Trump veered in the opposite direction. He was confrontational, combative, piqued by his perceived mistreatment in the press, and insistent that he had the right to keep running his business the way he wanted.
Obama, as well as Trump’s other predecessors, like to say that presidents grow into the role of commander-in-chief once they grasp the gravity of the Oval Office. Nine days away from the presidency, Trump isn’t showing any evidence of that kind of transformation.
Instead, in an appearance that will serve as the prelude to his presidency, Trump showed he will keep playing the same familiar role: The self-assured provocateur who will slash anyone he believes might have crossed him. Esteemed institutions of government like the nation’s top intelligence agencies won’t be immune.
Trump had a lot to cover Wednesday at a news conference that was initially scheduled for December and was supposed to outline how he would deal with the conflicts of interests facing him and his hundreds of companies.
He said he was turning his business over to a trust run by his sons, Don and Eric, but let one of his lawyers explain most of the details, including a curious pledge to turn over any foreign money spent at Trump hotels to the US Treasury.
But Trump’s chief preoccupation Wednesday was the question of whether Russia meddled in the US election. Though he conceded for the first time that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intelligence operatives were involved in hacking Democratic computers, he still refused to accept the widely-held view that Putin interceded to try to help him win the presidency.
In one gasp-worthy statement given the contentious relationship between the US and Russia right now, he said “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that’s called an asset, not a liability.”
Trump’s twin targets were US intelligence agencies and press outlets including CNN, which put forward exclusive reporting on Tuesday that classified documents presented to Obama and the President-elect last week included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Trump.
Furious that Buzzfeed printed the unsubstantiated allegations in their totality (which CNN did not), Trump chided news organizations who ran with the allegations, as well as the possible leakers.
“I must say that I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies,” Trump said. “A thing like that should never have been written, it should never have been had and it certainly should have never been released.”
He sought to conflate the actions of Buzzfeed and CNN. Unlike Buzzfeed, CNN did not publish any of the details of the 35-page document because reporters had not corroborated the report’s allegations.
Nevertheless — throwing typical presidential press conference protocol to the wind — Trump shouted repeatedly over CNN’s Jim Acosta as the senior White House correspondent attempted to ask Trump questions.
“Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question?” Acosta pressed Trump.
“Not you, your organization is terrible,” Trump said, lashing out at Acosta. “You are fake news.”
A CNN statement said the network’s “decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than Buzzfeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos.”
“The Trump team knows this,” the statement said. “They are using Buzzfeed’s decision to deflect from CNN’s reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations.”
With all that heat and fireworks around the Russian intelligence reporting, Trump left many questions about his business dealings unanswered.
But he couldn’t resist a quip alluding to his days as a television star on “The Apprentice.” If his sons run the company well, he said he’ll praise them, otherwise he said they’ll be subject to his most famous line: “You’re fired.”
By Maeve Reston