Scott has already flagged the golden highlight of president-elect Trump’s new conference this morning. I want to note what, for me, were some other highlights.
Trump thanked the New York Times and other mainstream outlets for not running with the story about his alleged interaction with Russia during the election campaign. He singled out the New York Times for praise. It is deserved.
Trump pushed back hard against the BuzzFeed story. He noted that the story refers to three people who allegedly had contact with Russia on Trump’s behalf during the campaign: Michael Cohen, Carter Page, and Paul Manafort. Cohen, Trump says, did not travel to Prague as the story claims. Trump called him into his office last night to examine his passport. It showed no foreign travel during the relevant period.
As for Page, Trump denied knowing him. Manafort, he said, denies the story.
In addition to citing his “germophobia,” Trump explained that he is extremely careful when he travels abroad. He understands that at any hotel in Russia, he expects the rooms to be bugged. He warns the people who travel with him accordingly.
I must say, it seems quite implausible that Trump would conduct himself in a Russian hotel the way the alleged “intelligence” documents claims. Trump hasn’t always behaved prudently, but that level of imprudence would be surprising.
On the issue of hacking during the election, Trump said “I think it was the Russians.” He promised to focus on defending against hacking by all outside powers and entities.
Trump was asked whether Russia’s election-related hacking will color his relations with Putin. He didn’t answer, perhaps because this question was posed as part of a multi-part question.
Asked whether he agrees with the intelligence committee’s assessment that Putin wanted to help him win the election, Trump said that if Putin likes him, this is an “asset.” That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is to view it as a bad sign.
Trump did add that there’s a good chance he won’t get along with Putin. I take this mean he is putting the Russian leader on notice that if he doesn’t change his ways, it will not be smooth sailing with the U.S. under Trump.
Trump basically ducked the question of whether he trusts U.S. intelligence agencies. He said that these agencies are vitally important, and that under Mike Pompeo (the nominee to head the CIA) and others, they will promptly issue a report on hacking, with action to follow.
Asked why he undercut intelligence agencies by denying Russian hacking for such a long time, Trump did not dispute the premises of the question. Instead, he responded that the leaking by people within the intelligence agencies was terrible. I think it is hard to dispute that complaint.
Asked what message he has for Putin regarding Russia’s hacking, Trump responded that Putin shouldn’t have done it and he won’t be doing it anymore. The second part of the answer seems questionable.
As part of the question about his message to Putin, the reporter also asked whether Trump can categorically deny that he and people in his campaign had contacts with Russia during the election. Trump did not answer. I think this was probably because the question was multi-part — two separate questions, really.
I would like to see Trump limit reporters to one question each so that if he forgets to answer every question posed by a particular reporter, he can’t be accused of being non-responsive.
During the news conference, Trump presented a corporate lawyer who explained how Trump’s businesses will be handled during his presidency. This discussion deserves a separate post, though not necessarily by me.
Overall, I think Trump handled the news conference well and was his usual entertaining self.
I happened to watch it after listening to Rex Tillerson testify for an hour and a half. The contrast between Tillerson’s sober-minded responses and Trump’s flamboyance was striking.
The former style is very much to be preferred, in my view. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the latter, up to a point.