Donald Trump assumed before being elected that "you'd have to set up some type of trust or whatever" as president, he told the New York Times (NYT) . You don't, as it turns out, but he "would like to do something."
The president-elect discussed a wide range of topics in a more than on-the-record meeting with the Times on Tuesday. The encounter came after early-morning confusion as to whether such a gathering would take place. Trump talked about the Middle East, the First Amendment and Breitbart News in the more than hour-long sit-down. He vaguely addressed growing concerns regarding his business entanglements and blurred lines between his business empire and presidential duties.
"In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There's never been a case like this," he said.
He made a similar assertion on Twitter Monday evening.
Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2016
Trump announced after his election that he would transfer the management and portfolio of his Trump Organization to his three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump. Trump attorney Michael Cohen in an interview called the setup a "blind trust," which experts say it is not.
The real estate magnate said on Tuesday he could continue signing checks at the Trump Organization but is "phasing that out now" and giving the business to his kids. "If it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again," he said.
Trump told the Times it would be extremely difficult to sell of his businesses because they are real estate holdings and brushed aside questions regarding what experts say will be an unprecedented conflict of interest in the White House. "The law's totally on my side," he said.
Trump acknowledged that his brand, which he claims is worth $3 billion, is now "hotter" and that the value of his new hotel in Washington, D.C. had been driven up by his win. But, he said his company is "so unimportant to me relative to what I'm doing." He made a similar assertion in his first post-election broadcast interview with "60 Minutes" days ago.
Trump appeared to hedge on some of the positions he had taken while campaigning.
He pledged repeatedly to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but on Tuesday, he said, "I'm looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it." He had also said he would instruct his attorney general to investigate Hillary Clinton but during the interview confirmed remarks made by former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway that he would seek to do no such thing. "I don't want to hurt the Clintons, I really don't," he said. And, he seemed to back away from campaign-trail claims he would seek to "open up" libel laws. When asked about his commitment to the First Amendment, he told reporters, "I think you'll be happy."
He addressed concerns surrounding his relationship with the alt-right, a group with far-right ideologies, some of which are racist and hateful. Trump has failed to issue a full-throated condemnation of white supremacists and other extreme groups that appear to have been heartened by his victory. The Times asked him whether he condemned such a conference over the weekend. "I disavow and condemn them," he said.
Trump also discussed Breitbart News, the online outlet that is home to alt-right news, and the entity's former executive chair, Steve Bannon, who the president-elect recently appointed as his chief strategist.
"Breitbart is just a publication," he said. "They cover stories like you cover stories. They are certainly a much more conservative paper, to put it mildly, than The New York Times. But Breitbart really is a news organization that has become quite successful."
He defended Bannon. "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," he said.
The meeting was a cautious move toward peace between Trump and the Times. The president-elect has been highly critical of the publication in recent months and early Tuesday morning cancelled the day's encounter before ultimately deciding to go ahead.
Trump admitted he reads the Times (unsurprising, given his continued attacks on its day-to-day reporting). "I do read it. Unfortunately. I'd live about 20 years longer if I didn't," he said.
His parting message, according to Times reporter Mike Grynbaum, who sat in on the meeting: the New York Times is "a world jewel. And I hope we can all get along."