Trump signals softer approach in Times meeting

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President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday answered questions from The New York Times on his relationship to the “alt-right,” his web of business entanglements and his relationship with the press in an extraordinary event live-tweeted by the Grey Lady’s reporters and editors.

It was the first time Trump had submitted himself to questions from a group of reporters since his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8.

{mosads}Trump sat for separate interviews with CBS’s “60 Minutes” and The Wall Street Journal, but Tuesday’s event had the feel of a press conference, as reporters peppered the president-elect with questions and tweeted his responses in real time. Trump previously had come under some criticism for not holding a press conference.

Over the course of the unorthodox meeting, which took place on the 16th floor of The New York Times building in midtown Manhattan, Trump spoke warmly of Clinton, saying she had already “suffered greatly” and that he had no desire to further that suffering by prosecuting the litany of crimes he has alleged that she committed as secretary of State.

Trump signaled that he wouldn’t be moved by the cascading reports of potential conflicts of interest brought on by his global business empire.

And Trump disavowed the alt-right, speaking at length about his perceived closeness to the movement for the first time. That storyline exploded over the weekend when a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in Washington, D.C., to pledge fealty to the incoming president.

Trump was by turns solicitous, argumentative, evasive, joking and defiant with the nation’s most important newspaper, which has been among Trump’s top targets in his attacks on the media. He said that he has been a longtime reader, joking that it had taken years off his life.

The president-elect bemoaned the Times’s “rough” coverage of him, saying even The Washington Post had written a positive article or two, but added that he hoped to develop a professional working relationship with the paper.

“I would like to turn it around,” Trump said. “I think it would make the job I am doing much easier.”

Trump made news on several other fronts over the course of the 75-minute meeting.

Regarding some issues — the Clintons, climate change, the media —  he sought to soothe tensions by speaking in warm generalities. 

Trump was more defiant on his business interests, insisting that “in theory” he could run his business “perfectly and then run the country perfectly.”

“The law’s totally on my side,” said Trump, according to the Times’s Maggie Haberman.

“I’d assumed that you’d have to set up some type of trust or whatever and you don’t,” he continued, conceding only that he’d “like to do something” to ameliorate the conflicts of interest, but declining to specify what that might mean. 

Trump signaled that he has no intention to liquidate his assets — a measure that many believe is the only thing he can do to truly remove conflict of interest concerns.

Selling his company would be “a really hard thing to do, because I have real estate,” he said.

The Times reported Monday that the president-elect encouraged British politician Nigel Farage, a Trump supporter, to oppose the wind farms that Trump thinks will spoil the view from one of his Scottish golf courses.

It is one of several recent stories that have raised questions about whether Trump is using the White House to further his own business interests.

Trump admitted that he “might have” raised the subject of wind farms during a recent meeting with Farage, but declined to elaborate.

Instead, he was unapologetic about any financial windfall that might come his way by virtue of winning the presidency.

Trump told the Times reporters that his newly built Washington hotel was “probably a more valuable asset than it was before.”

The Trump brand is “hotter,” he said.

Trump struck a different tone on the controversy surrounding his connection to the alt-right, saying he didn’t want to “energize” the movement and denouncing the conference held over the weekend where white nationalists cheered his election and used Nazi-era terms and salutes.

“I disavow and condemn them,” Trump said.

“It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why,” he added.

White supremacist and Nazi groups have latched on to Trump’s campaign and victory, saying it represents a victory for their own cause.

The Trump team at times has sought to distance itself from such groups. Trump’s son Eric Trump at one point said former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke should get “a bullet.”

But the remarks to the Times represent the first time that Trump has outright condemned last week’s event, news of which has circulated heavily on social media in recent days.

Trump is sticking by his embattled adviser Stephen Bannon, who is a symbol to many of how the alt-right has permeated the White House.

Bannon’s has described the website he previously ran, Breitbart News, as “the platform of the alt-right.”

“If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him,” Trump said on Tuesday.

The president-elect was more vague on other matters, including how he’d deal with foreign hot spots and what he’d do about the climate accords that President Obama struck in Paris.

Asked by the veteran Times’s columnist Tom Friedman if he’d withdraw from those agreements, Trump replied that he was “looking at it very closely” and claimed to have “an open mind to it.” 

Trump has previously dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, but conceded on Tuesday that there is probably “some connectivity” between human activities and the warming of the earth. He also signaled that he wouldn’t want to damage American competitiveness to deal with the problem.

Trump made some broad comments about foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. He repeated comments he made during the campaign that the U.S. shouldn’t play a nation-building role as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan under the presidency of George W. Bush. 

Trump, however, signaled he wanted to do something to end the bloodshed in Syria amid the civil war between President Bashar Assad and assorted opposition groups. 

“We have to end that craziness that’s going on in Syria,” he said.

Trump thinks of himself as a peerless dealmaker, and he’s previously described the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as the ultimate deal. He repeated his desire to solve this intractable conflict.

Trump even suggested that son-in-law Jared Kushner, an orthodox Jew who has helped write Trump’s speeches on Israel policy, could be a player in striking the Mideast peace deal.

“I would love to be the one who made peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” he said. “That would be such a great achievement.”

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton The New York Times
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