Trump brazenly behaves like a despot at press conference, in worrying glimpse of things to come


President-elect Donald Trump gave his first press conference since July, and it was a scary picture into what his presidency will look like: Refusal to meaningfully address conflicts of interest, icing out a reporter from an outlet that has criticized him, and deflecting questions on transparency and accountability by belligerently asserting "I won."

Giving his first press conference since last July, Donald Trump seemed rattled when he first appeared in front of reporters. Though the presser was ostensibly called to present how he would address his vast conflicts of interest as a result of his business, he almost certainly expected to be grilled about new reports on his ties to, and potentially being compromised by, Russia.

He got some questions on the subject, but it was hardly the intense and relentless questioning that the subject warrants. And when CNN's Jim Acosta appeared inclined to ask a tough question on Russia, Trump simply refused to call on him, insulting his outlet and shouting at him for being "rude" for trying to do his job.

By the time another reporter queried Trump on his refusal to disclose his tax returns, an entirely on-topic question given the reason for the press conference, Trump was no longer looking shaky. To the contrary, he appeared to have returned to his default state of overconfidence, and, feeling pressed into a corner, he resorted to bullying and mockery.

REPORTER: Do you believe the hacking was justified, and will you release your tax returns to prove what you're saying about no deals in Russia?

TRUMP: Uh, well, I'm not releasing the tax returns, because, as you know, they're under audit.

REPORTER: [muffled] —since the 70s has had a required audit from the IRS; the last six have released them— [crosstalk as Trump begins to loudly talk over her]

TRUMP: [sarcastically] Oh, gee, I've never heard that. Ohhhh, gee, I've never heard that. I've never heard that before. You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, okay? They're the only ones, but—

REPORTER: You don't think that the American public is concerned about that?

TRUMP: No, I don't think so. I won! I mean, I became president. No, I don't think they care at all. [cheers from his team and family] I don't think they care at all. I think you care. I think you care.

It is not Trump stating the fact that he won the election which is at issue, but that he uses the fact of his victory to shut down a question about transparency and accountability around his finances.

He did indeed win the presidency, by winning the Electoral College, but he did not win the popular vote — which is hardly irrelevant when he is using his win to argue that the entirety of the American public does not care about his lack of financial transparency.

There are millions of people in this country who do care, very much. Some of them may even have voted for him. He is writing off every last one of us, and our urgent concerns, by asserting that his victory means he owes nothing to the public.

This is not acceptable behavior from a United States president (or president-elect), who must recognize, in the most basic spirit of democratic elections, that winning, quite literally, is not everything. It does not confer a pass on accountability, even to critics to whom a president may not want to be accountable.

The entire press conference was an exercise in refusing accountability, as his lawyer (from a firm named "Russia Law Firm of the Year") laid out a plan for his business interests that will no absolutely nothing to address the many conflicts of interest plaguing him — and us.

DNC National Press Secretary Adrienne Watson said in a statement:

Donald Trump’s plan allows the incoming President of United States to be bribed by anyone in the world who wants to secretly funnel money to the Trump family.

Not only is he refusing to divest from the Trump Organization, he’s refusing to meet even the most basic of ethical standards. He laid out no independent check to ensure accountability, no mechanism to provide transparency to the American people and no way to adequately prevent coordination between Trump’s sons and their father.

This is a sham that raises more questions than answers and is designed to distract from the most extensive conflicts of interest in the history of the American presidency.

Watson's contention that Trump is failing to meet "even the most basic of ethical standards" is backed up by Noah Bookbinder, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who said in a statement: "Every decision he will make as president will be followed by the specter of doubt, and will be questioned as to whether his decision is in the best interest of the American people or the best interest of his bottom line. He will also face questions about whether he is violating the constitution by taking payments from foreign governments on a daily basis. Today was his first test as president. He failed."

Trump's entire press conference was a brazen statement of rejection of ethical recommendations, combined with evasion of concerns regarding his disloyalty and a continued campaign of hostility and intimidation toward the press.

Those are not features of the leader of a free democracy. They are the behaviors of despots.

Trump's changing demeanor during the press conference, from nervous to belligerent, is very concerning. As he managed to bully through questions and exhibited stunningly troubling behavior without consequence, his back stiffened with empowerment.

This was a turning point. A very alarming one.

One night earlier, President Obama warned us about threats to our democracy. During his press conference, President-elect Trump revealed that the biggest threat to our democracy is him.