President-elect Donald Trump’s true believers probably are satisfied that there’s no reason to worry about his relationship with Russia, or about potential conflicts between his global business empire and the presidency.
They may even be applauding his petulant performance Wednesday, the latest display of how Trump is trying to redefine acceptable behavior for the leader of the free world.
What he’s doing is not OK.
It’s not all right to attack entire media organizations that report stories he doesn’t like and refuse to take questions from their reporters.
And it’s not enough to put his two oldest sons in charge of The Trump Organization and promise not to discuss business with them.
Trump held his first news conference in nearly six months the day after blockbuster reports that intelligence leaders gave him and President Barack Obama information last week that Russia has been collecting damaging information on Trump. The dossier includes unsubstantiated allegations – now all over the internet – of scandalous personal behavior and sordid business dealings. It may be Russian disinformation.
But the reason the report is being taken seriously – and needs to be fully investigated – is that it could explain Trump’s dangerous friendliness toward Russia and his bewildering admiration for its president, Vladimir Putin. Even Wednesday, Trump said, speaking of himself in the third person: “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability.”
Trump did flatly deny the lurid allegations, calling them “fake news” fabricated by “sick” political opponents and citing Russian denials. He declared that he has no business deals in Russia.
The intelligence briefing that Obama and Trump received last week also concluded that Russia hacked Democrats during the presidential campaign. The president-elect finally conceded that, but then backtracked. He still isn’t taking Russian interference in our election seriously enough.
He also isn’t going far enough to ensure that he’ll do what’s best for the country, not his businesses.
Trump is taking some good steps to avoid conflicts of interest. He said he turned down a $2 billion deal with a developer in Dubai over the weekend. As many 30 pending deals were terminated, there will be no new foreign deals, and any new domestic deals will have to be cleared by an ethics adviser.
But his personal financial plan is flimsy at best. The only foolproof solution would be for his businesses to be sold and the assets put into a blind trust over which neither he nor his family has any control, ethics experts say.
We’re supposed to trust that Trump won’t ever talk to his sons about his business and they won’t ever talk to anyone in his administration. His attorney said Trump will only know about deals if he reads about them in the media. That means he’ll know about them. And he’s expecting them to be lucrative. Trump even joked – we think – that he would return to his companies after eight years and if his sons didn’t do a good job, he’d tell them, “You’re fired.”
His attorney claimed that Trump wouldn’t violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution if foreign officials stay in Trump hotels because they will pay the market rate and any profits will be donated to the U.S. treasury. Many ethics experts say that also isn’t enough. Trump companies still will have interests in properties around the world and owe hundreds of millions to foreign institutions.
The attorney said it’s unfair to expect full divestment, which she said would destroy the company he built. But putting the nation first is what Trump signed up for when he decided to seek the presidency.
The man who will take the oath of office to lead the free world next week could be headed to a constitutional crisis over his business conflicts and is under a cloud of suspicion that he might be under the influence of a foreign power.
The closer we get to Trump’s inauguration, the clearer it gets how much our system of checks and balances will be tested. If and when he goes beyond the pale, it can’t just be accepted as Trump being Trump. He must be held to account.