At his first news conference as president-elect, Donald Trump announced that his big plan to separate himself from business conflicts of interest is to… let his sons run his business, and promise not to talk to them about it.
Ethics experts from past administration told TheWrap that plan “falls short in every respect.” But reporters barely glanced on the issue, because they were focused on so many, splashier things. This is already Classic Trump. The news media focuses on something outrageous and un-ignorable, while things deserving closer scrutiny slip past.
Here are three things at Trump’s news conference that distracted us from the potentially huge problem of letting his kids run his business.
1. Nazi Germany. After months of understandably objecting to comparisons between himself and Adolf Hitler, Trump flipped the script and tweeted “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” in response to BuzzFeed’s publication of an unverified report. In the news conference, Trump stood by the tweet.
The Nazis remark is part of Trump’s War on Coherence, which works like this. He makes a statement that sends his opponents into conniptions, trying to argue over why it’s illogical or hypocritical, while he just… moves on to the next thing. It’s a tremendous waste of is opponents’ brainpower and time. (See also: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place.”) As the old saying goes, when you roll around with a pig, you both get muddy and the pig loves it.
2. Golden Showers. Trump spent the opening part of his news conference deriding BuzzFeed for daring report the unfounded “golden showers” accusations, while giving head-pats to the news organizations that refused to go there. But then Trump himself went there by addressing the “golden showers” aspect of the report, explaining that he’s too germ- and hidden-camera-averse to ever stage a prostitute urine-show.
A regular politician would have gone to the classic “I refuse to dignify these allegations with a response,” but that might have ended the sideshow instead of prolonging it.
3. “Fake News”: Trump refused to answer a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, telling him: “No, not you. Not you. Your organization is terrible. Your organization is terrible. Let’s go. Go ahead. Quiet. Quiet. She’s asking a question. Don’t be rude. Don’t be rude. Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news. Go ahead. Go ahead.”
People love drama, and news outlets and social media dutifully lapped up the spectacle.
What all this distracted us from: Trump has promised since he won the presidency that he would explain how he plans to separate himself from his vast web of business entanglements to make sure he isn’t doing government business that enriches himself. He canceled a news conference planned for a month ago to work out the details. The plan he ultimately came up with comes down to this:
“My two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company,” Trump said at the news conference. “They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”
Ethics lawyers who served under President George W. Bush and Obama told TheWrap that Trump “did not make a clean break with his business ownership interests” or “establish a blind trust as his predecessors for four decades have done” and didn’t “establish a blind trust or the equivalent,” calling his plan an “inadequate and scantily-detailed ethics wall.”
“Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption,” said Bush’s ethics lawyer, Richard Painter.
Walter M. Shaub, Jr., director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, also had plenty to say, starting with this: “The plan the president-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president has met in four decades past.”
You can read his full thoughts here.