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Trump strikes different tone, policy positions in sit-down with New York Times

November 22, 2016 at 6:50 PM EST
President-elect Donald Trump met with The New York Times for an on-the-record conversation on Tuesday. During the session, Mr. Trump disavowed the alt-right but defended Stephen Bannon, said he didn’t want to hurt Hillary Clinton and said he might not want to rip up the Paris climate accord. Judy Woodruff speaks with The New York Times’ Julie Davis, who was at the meeting.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President-elect Donald Trump is off to Florida tonight for the long Thanksgiving weekend, and he’s trailing headlines in his wake. He sat down today at The New York Times for an extensive, live-tweeted question-and-answer session.

Julie Davis, who covers the White House, was one of The Times reporters in the meeting with Mr. Trump, and she joins me now.

Julie Davis, welcome back to the “NewsHour.”

So, this was an on-again/off-again session, wasn’t it?

JULIE DAVIS, The New York Times: This was.

We had planned for it to be from 1:00 to 2:00 today, and then we found out via tweet early this morning that Mr. Trump had decided to cancel. But shortly thereafter, within a couple more hours, he tweeted again, and we heard from our business and editor colleagues here at The Times that it was back on. So, we all did get to sit down.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it was partly over whether it was on the record or not; is that right?

JULIE DAVIS: That’s right, yes. He had agreed to sit down with us on the record. He met briefly with the publisher for a few moments beforehand off the record, and had said earlier on Twitter that he wanted — that we had changed the ground rules at the last moment and he was canceling, when, in fact, he was the one who asked that it be off the record and didn’t want to show up unless it was.

But we did end up getting to terms, and it was on the record.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you have been following what he has been saying quite a while. What did you think stood out?

JULIE DAVIS: Well, the Donald Trump we saw today here at The Times was a different tone and some different positions than what we heard on the campaign trail.

We asked him about prosecuting Hillary Clinton, which was a favorite chant of his supporters on the campaign trail. He said he wasn’t really interested in doing that. He wanted to get past the election, it was very divisive and he really had no interest in that. So that was new.

He also backed off of his insistence that the United States should begin water-boarding terror suspects again. He said he’s spoken to General Mattis, who he has been considering for his secretary of defense, and he says essentially that water-boarding doesn’t work and that he’s inclined to buy that assessment. So that was new.

And he also said that he wouldn’t necessarily rip up the Paris climate accord, which is something that he’s really been railing against or had been railing against as a candidate. So there was a lot that was new.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet when — I gather from the reporting of The Times, when reporters pressed him on his business arrangements and how those might be affected when he becomes president, he was pretty insistent on his position on that. What did he say about that?

JULIE DAVIS: Well, he essentially said — you know, we asked him about whether he would liquidate his business. He said: Well, I really can’t. It’s real estate. You can’t just sell things off.

And essentially his point was: As president, I’m not really bound by any of the ethics rules. There is no such thing as a conflict of interest if you’re president, which, if you look at the letter of the rules, may be true.

But when we pressed him on what he would do to comply with the spirit of the rules, which he should he would want to do — he said: I don’t have to do anything, but I would like to do something to give the appearance that there isn’t a conflict — he really couldn’t be nailed down on that.

And he wouldn’t say specifically if there was any one thing that he would be willing to submit to as president that would ensure to the American people that he is dividing his role as president from his business role as the head of this real estate and business empire.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the other thing — one of the other things The Times reporters pressed him on was the so-called alt-right movement, the connection of his senior adviser Steve Bannon to that movement.

What did he have to say about that?

JULIE DAVIS: Well, he very forcefully defended Steve Bannon.

He said he’s a decent guy, he’s been treated unfairly, and if he held any of those views, if he, Mr. Trump, thought that Steve Bannon was a racist or an anti-Semite, that of course he would never have hired him, and if he heard him say anything or made any decisions along those lines, that he would be out.

He also was asked to and he did disavow the alt-right gathering, the Nazi supporters gathering in D.C., which happened over the weekend. He said: If those people are encouraged by me, I don’t want that and I’m not asking that.

And he said he very strongly condemned and disavowed that. So, we haven’t seen him do it on Twitter. And in some other venues, he has been less vocal about it, but certainly today at this meeting he was very — he was adamant that those are not views he tolerates and he doesn’t believe that Mr. Bannon holds them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Reporter Julie Davis, after Donald Trump, the president-elect Trump, had a long and extended talk with New York Times reporters today in New York, thank you, Julie Davis.

JULIE DAVIS: Thanks, Judy.

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