These 4 moments during Wednesday morning’s press conference, are indications of what President-elect Trump’s time in the White House will (most likely) look like.
When Trump’s attorney, Sheri Dillon, evoked Rockefeller’s conflict-of-interest as VP to allude that Trump’s business operations are being unfairly targeted.
At the beginning of a 15 minute description of how Trump’s ties to his enormous “empire” will be “severed,” his attorney Sheri Dillon evoked the memory of another well-known billionaire: Nelson Rockefeller who served as President Gerald Ford’s Vice President in 1974. Dillon alleged that Rockefeller did not have to deal with so much scrutiny and backlash when serving as VP for his business ties, however that’s not necessarily true. And to call the kettle black – that was a different time in American politics. Although the media may not have badgered Rockefeller as much as they have Trump, Congress certainly did.
As recorded by the U.S. Senate’s website:
Yet nomination was only half the process, for the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution required confirmation by both houses of Congress. Democrats and some conservative Republicans relished the prospect of opening the books on the private finances of one of the nation’s wealthiest families. Even President Ford expressed fascination with the details as they emerged. “Can you imagine,” he said privately, “Nelson lost $30 million in one year and it didn’t make any difference.” After the shocks of Watergate and the revelations that Agnew had taken kickbacks, it was reassuring to have a vice president too rich to be bought. But the confirmation hearings revealed that Rockefeller had been making personal contributions to government officials, including Henry Kissinger and the administrators of New York’s supposedly independent commissions. Since state law had prohibited making large financial gifts to state appointees, Rockefeller had given the money as “loans” that he never expected to be repaid.
Rockefeller’s confirmation hearings dragged on for months, and House and Senate leaders talked of delaying his confirmation until the new Congress convened in January. “You just can’t do that to the country,” President Ford complained to House Speaker Carl Albert and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.
When pressed to release his tax returns to Congress during his confirmation process, Rockefeller did just that. Trump has continually used the excuse of an “audit” as his reason not to release his returns (which he reiterated during the conference), but experts have pointed out (including the IRS) that there is no legal reason for him not to release his returns – instead it’s a preference. He can release his returns, but he and his many tax attorney’s would argue, that if he did release them they would be “picked apart” and heavily scrutinized. Tax writer, Kelly Phillips Erb wrote for Forbes Magazine, “having any potential flaws highlighted during an audit makes the returns a little more difficult to defend.”
The point is – evoking Rockefeller in order to point out that Trump is being unfairly targeted – is misleading and arguably manipulative of the American public.
Trump’s business interests and ties should be continually scrutinized because he is going to be the American President. If his appointed Cabinet members have to give up their ties and follow certain regulations, why shouldn’t he? Lead by example, right?
Evoking a case from the 1970’s – arguably one of the most corrupt, irresponsible and vindictive time in American politics – is not enough to forego my critique of the President-elect. Unless that’s the kind of administration we can look forward to.
When he consistently repeated that he doesn’t have to give up his business ties, but is anyway.
It appears that Trump is continuing to play the “good guy” card. During the conference he stated that, “Over the weekend I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very amazing man” but he turned it down he said, noting that such an action was not required but magnanimous of him since he’s now the President.
“I could actually run my business and run my government at the same time,” Trump insisted. But again, he won’t. Why? Because he doesn’t feel right doing that. He’s right – there is no straightforward law stating that he cannot run his business and the country at the same time (although Constitutional provisions would make it difficult). However, by consistently patting himself on the back for attempting to sever his ties to his business, he plays to his supporters’ belief that he’s inherently a good guy with America’s interest at heart. Which for America’s sake, I hope is true.
Federal Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub stated to Vox on Wednesday, “The president is now entering a world of public service. He’s going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He’s going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So no, I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be president of the United States of America.”
So should we be applauding Trump for (attempting) to follow a precedent that is expected in order to maintain a relatively corrupt-free and functional democracy? It seems that from his point of view, he’s doing us a “favor” by putting America’s interests first. We’re at his mercy and we should thank him for that.
If this has taught us anything – it’s that we need to put a law on the books. And fast.
When he struck back at intelligence “leaks” to media outlets.
As a writer, a fan of free media and a friend to many different journalists – this moment scared me the most on a personal level. Under President Obama, the government’s attacks on “leaks” were heightened. As The Intercept pointed out in a recent article,
Despite claiming to oversee “most transparent administration in history,” Obama has presided over an unprecedented crackdown on leaks and whistleblowers, laying the groundwork for future presidents to threaten would-be leakers.
Obama has used the Espionage Act — a World War I-era law designed to outlaw spying — to prosecute twice as many leakers as all his predecessors put together.
So it was already bad, but after Trump’s very public threat against “leaks” during today’s conference it appears that Washington insiders and journalists are in for a tougher ride in the next four years. Especially if those “leaks” compromise his position.
The reason this matters rests on the simple fact that Washington operates on leaks. It’s how we know about intelligence meetings, legislative deals moving through Congress, corruption scandals, foreign threats, and a whole host of other things important to American citizens that would otherwise remain “hush, hush.” As Columbia Journalism Review pointed out in 2016:
You can go down the list of past journalism prize winners and find it littered with now-famous stories based on classified leaks—from the secret and illegal bombing of Cambodia and Laos and CIA crimes from the 1970s all the way up to secret CIA prisons, NSA warrantless wiretapping, and drone strikes of modern times.Would the public really be better off if they never found out about these crimes and violations of the Constitution?
But those investigations are not an aberration: Stories based on classified leaks fill the news all the time.
We need leaks, and Trump’s outwardly hostile reaction towards them – primarily only those that put him in a bad light (he seems to love the DNC hacks) – does not bode well for a transparent, functioning democracy.
When he attacked media outlets directly.
It’s no secret that the relationship between the mainstream media and Trump has not been rosy. In fact, he has outwardly attacked the media multiple times throughout his campaign. It was his attacks directly on Buzzfeed and CNN during Wednesday’s press conference that really ruffled some feathers, however.
Before refusing to answer questions from a CNN reporter – which ended in an cringeworthy exchange with Jim Acosta – he had already called the media organization “fake news” and deemed Buzzfeed a “pile of garbage” due to the fact that they published the unverified dossier report about possible “compromising information” held on Trump by Moscow.
This isn’t the first time Trump has attacked certain media organizations, he’s already attacked the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, NBC, etc. When the media reports news in his favour or refuses to publish unverified reports however, he showers them with love. As he did Wednesday stating, “I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that, but I will tell you there were some news organizations, with all that was just said, that were so professional — so incredibly professional — and that I’ve just gone up a notch, as to what I think of you. Okay? All right.” Again, it feels like he’s doing us favors by complimenting news organizations that in his view, correctly report on him. Down the road, this could lead to even more one-sided reporting and a “chill effect” on journalists covering news that could possibly upset the President.
So, does he love the media, or not? The answer is: only Trump knows.
Over the next four years American trust in the media, journalism and fact-based news will continue to waiver because the American President will consistently badger news outlets and irresponsibly label everything as “fake news.” One man is now calling the shots based on personal feelings and reprisals. Evident in his statement that he stopped holding press conferences because “we were getting inaccurate news.”
Interestingly, one of the most corrupt Presidents in history – Richard Nixon – had the same relationship and strategy with the media as Trump: “go directly to the people through live television events, sidestep the White House press corps, and publicly denigrate journalists as biased elites.” It all eventually caught up to him when his back-door dealings became public thanks to “leaks” and courageous journalists. For a time however, he had the American people fooled and sadly, I feel we’re returning to that same era.
The media is not perfect, and the revolution of digital media, alongside lacklustre revenue-models, click-bait headlines, political interests, etc. has made responsible journalism even more difficult to maintain. But, it’s still better than the alternative: a Trump Administration that dictates when/how/where/what the media reports based on the whims and interests of one man.
Hm, reminds me of a few other leaders out there…
Here’s to the next four years!