Editor-in-Chief Ksenija Pavlovic offers the three most important takeaways from the first press conference of President-elect Donald J. Trump.
President-elect Donald J. Trump’s long-awaited press conference attracted around 250 accredited media representatives to Trump Tower in New York City. Though the press conference was intended to address the President-elect’s business holdings, an unverified dossier published by Buzzfeed became front-and-center.
Here are the 3 main takeaways.
1. Unverified dossier published by BuzzFeed last night is far more than just “fake news”
On January 10, 2017, Buzzfeed reported on a bombshell story concerning an unverified intelligence dossier alleging serious collusion between Russian and the Trump team. During the press conference, President-elect Donald J. Trump addressed the allegations head-on, calling it “fake news.”
To be clear, this dossier is far more than just “fake news.” In truth, it invokes two questions central to our politics – the role of the media and the responsibility of the intelligence community.
To be sure, BuzzFeed was not the dossier’s author. It was penned by someone else. By whom exactly is not clear.
It is very easy to fault the media for reporting on these currently unsubstantiated documents. But the issue runs far deeper and concerns both the source’s credibility and identity. It still remains unclear whether or not the President-elect, in consort with his security team, will investigate the source of this document trove. And what remains more uncertain is if PEOTUS will comment on the potential motivations behind this opposition research.
As regards the motivation of both the dossier’s origins and its leaking, there are several concerns we should bear in mind. Specifically: Why was this dossier written, and, more importantly, why did it explode now, just 9 days before Inauguration Day?
In the opening statement, incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer condemned BuzzFeed’s publishing of the unverified dossier “outrageous” and “irresponsible.”
“The fact that BuzzFeed and CNN went on to report with this unsubstantiated claim it is a sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks. The report is not an intelligence report,” insisted Sean Spicer.
While Spicer’s main remarks focused on the three actors associated with the campaign in the report – Trump attorney Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page – that is not the primary concern of the document.
The main concern is the implication that the Trump Team and Russia’s foreign intelligence agency shared information prior to the election. This, above all, warrants further examination and investigation.
Unfortunately, there was no time at the press conference to delve deeper into the subject. This circumstance represents a broader problem both for the media and the President-elect Donald J. Trump: there are simply too many journalists in the room and too many issues to be clarified in no time.
The press was also focused on inquiring about Trump’s trust in the intelligence community, but again, this is not the main issue here. Here’s why.
President-elect Donald J. Trump has confirmed today for the first time his understanding that Russia was behind the cyber hack. This brings us back to an earlier question that the Pavlovic Today has already visited. Which is to say, the distinction that needs to be drawn between Russia’s ipso facto electoral interference and the specific actorial motivations of the Kremlin. These two components were greatly confused from the beginning of the revelations concerning Russia’s hacking. Initially, there should not have been any disagreement that Russia committed the cyber hack. Whether or not it was necessarily pro-Trump is a totally different question.
Up until now, however, the President-elect Donald J. Trump has interpreted Russia’s hack much differently than the White House and the intelligence community. And even though he admitted Russia’s culpability in the press conference today, he has still yet to concede that Russia’s interference was biased in favor of him.
Returning to the issue of the dossier, Trump is relying on Russia’s own denial of having any involvement with the President-elect. What Russia has or has not said is irrelevant, though. By citing Russian claims as a source of “ethos,” not only does the President-elect not negate the report in any convincing way, but he’s only affirming the perception of him as a Putin apologist.
In this respect, President-elect Trump is still on the learning curve in becoming a skilled politician. His business-oriented mindset has yet to fully adjust, but come January 20, it soon will.
Returning to the main takeaway, it was irresponsible for BuzzFeed to publish and report on a wholly unsubstantiated dossier. But, the reportage raises important questions worthy of journalistic investigation.
Who is the author of the dossier? What is the motivation of the dossier to be disseminated by the media? (Someone could very well leak a document by simply publishing it on the Web. In this case, they operated through a high-profile news organization with a broad readership.) And finally, why did the report explode on the eve of the President-elect’s first press conference and during the first round of Senate confirmation hearings on Trump’s Cabinet picks?
2. ObamaCare On The Verge Of Collapse As Trump’s Administration Takes Power
President-elect Donald J. Trump was clear: he will replace Obamacare. The President-elect Donald J. Trump even added a new layer of spin – that he would be doing Democrats a favor. It will be both “repeal and replace,” implying that the two policy moves will happen simultaneously.
This suggests that Trump is confident a Republican-devised health care bill will be passed. Elaborating on one of the most contentious issues of the ACA, deductibles, he said that some are so high that people who have gone broke (because of costly healthcare) cannot even pay for the deductibles.
“ObamaCare is the Democrats’ problem. We are going to take the problem off the shelves for them. We are doing them a tremendous service by doing this. We could sit back and let them hang with it, but we are doing the Democrats the great service. President-elect is promising the health plan that is going to be far less expensive, and far better. “
3. Transparency, accountability, and insight
Having piles of legal documents brought out and placed on a table in front of the press corps was an optical success. However, none of the press was neither invited nor allowed to look closely at the documents. Thus, it leads one to ask if the documents were just a prop for the stage.
However, in all fairness, President-elect Donald J. Trump did attempt to be transparent about the transfer of power within the Trump Organization. Furthermore, he invited his lawyer Sheri Dillon to the podium to go into scripted legal specifics. This is a strategic move on behalf of the President-elect, relying on professional legal counsel to go on-the-record about sensitive matters that he would perhaps misformulate.
Dillon said that the President-elect would donate the profits his hotels generate from foreign governments to the Treasury. She also clarified that the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, which prohibits individuals holding office in the U.S. from accepting payments from the foreign state, does not apply to simple hotel visits.
Trump’s three elder children were present for the press conference. Ivanka Trump, standing not far from the podium, will be moving to Washington D.C. along with her husband Jared Kushner (who will be Senior Adviser in the Trump White House). Whether or not Ivanka, too, will have a role in the incoming administration has, so far, not been made clear.
As regards Eric and Don taking over the business? “I hope they will do a great job. If not, they will be fired,” President-elect said, concluding the press conference with his trademark parlance.
Overall, the first press conference can be considered a positive step in the direction of transparency, accountability, and insight into the views of the next President of the United States. And though it went on for nearly an hour, given the number of relevant issues, and the surfeit of journalists present, the press conference did not last long enough. What is more is that it was punctuated by Trump’s longstanding penchant to criticize the press. This time, Trump made headlines with his critique of the “dishonest media” by excoriating journalist Jim Acosta and calling both him and his organization “fake news.”
Considering the complexity and sensitivity of the burning subjects on the political agenda, many important issues after this press conference are still left uncertain and open to free interpretation. Perhaps the President-elect Donald J. Trump will consider holding a new press conference soon and on a more regular schedule.
A move like that would help objective and accurate reporting.