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Trump on his conflicts of interest: There’s no law against it

President-elect Donald Trump greets the crowd as he

President-elect Donald Trump greets the crowd as he walks through the lobby of the New York Times after meeting with the newspaper's editors on Nov. 22, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images North America / Spencer Platt

Minding his business

President-elect Donald Trump has a retort to those who see troubling conflicts of interest between his family business empire and the political power he soon will assume.

“The law’s totally on my side. The president can’t have a conflict of interest,” Trump told New York Times editors and reporters. “In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly,” he said.

On the law, Trump is right. Presidents and vice presidents are exempt from a ban on federal executive branch employees participating “in government matters in which they or their immediate family has a financial interest.”

But is that good enough? Trump’s hesitance to build a wall between his financial interests and the presidency is setting off alarms across partisan lines.

Micah Morrison of Judicial Watch — the conservative legal watchdog group that made its name by tormenting the Clintons over ethics since the 1990s — wrote Tuesday: “If Mr. Trump doesn’t drain his own swamp of conflicting interests soon, he may find himself drowning in it.”

What Trump blew in Brits’ ears

During a meeting in recent days with a British entourage led his friend Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s far-right U.K. Independence party, Trump sought their help in opposing offshore wind farms like the kind he worries will mar the view from a Trump-owned golf course in Scotland, the Times reported.

Asked about that Tuesday, Trump told the newspaper: “ I might have brought it up.”

He also said the Trump brand is “hotter” since his election.

The take-away: ‘Lock’ was a load

During the campaign, Trump said Hillary Clinton “has to go to jail” over how she mishandled her State Department emails and vowed to appoint a special prosecutor if elected. Now that he’s elected, he doesn’t think it’s such a good idea.

“I want to move forward ... I don’t want to hurt the Clintons,’’ Trump said in his session with the Times. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all.”

What happened to the “lock her up” frenzy from his rallies?

“He’s thinking of many different things as he prepares to become the President of the United States, and things that sound like the campaign are not among them,” Trump aide Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC.

It’s not the only Trump promise undergoing a post-campaign rewrite, says Newsday columnist Dan Janison.

Against her, before he was for her

While in full personal-insult mode back in March, Trump tooted: "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!"

Now he considers making the state's Republican governor his UN ambassador. See Laura Figueroa's story in Newsday here

More thoughts, second thoughts

Trump hasn’t held a news conference since his election (nor for more than three months before it.)

So his roundtable at The Times provided the most extensive questioning he has faced on a wide range of subjects as he prepares to lead the nation. See Yancey Roy’s story for Newsday, and read some highlights here:

Torturing terror suspects — After meeting with a top contender for secretary of defense, retired Marine Corps. Gen. James N. Mattis, Trump is no longer confident that waterboarding should go back into the interrogators’ toolbox.

“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,’” Trump explained. Mattis told him building trust and rewarding cooperation pays off more. Torture, Trump said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”

Change on climate? — In the past, Trump called the theory of climate change caused by human activity a “hoax.” On Tuesday, the president-elect said, “I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much.”

He hedged on his campaign promise to abandon the Paris climate accords. “I’m looking at it very closely ... I have an open mind to it.”

The “alt right” — Asked about a weekend conference in Washington where white nationalists celebrated his victory with Nazi-style salutes, Trump said: “I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn.”

But he disputed accounts that his choice for chief strategist in the White House, former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, is close to them. “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 news media — Trump repeated his complaints that of news media unfairness to him, but retreated from a campaign threat to “open up libel laws” to make it easier to sue.

He said someone told him such a shift could backfire on him.

“You know, you might be sued a lot more,” Trump recalled of the advice. “I said, ‘You know, I hadn’t thought of that.’”

London is not amused

While still choosing his Cabinet and top aides, Trump decided to push his choice for a gig in the British government — an opponent of the governing Conservative Party no less.

He tweeted Monday night that “many people would like to see” his friend Farage “represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States. He would do a great job!”

London didn’t appreciate the suggestion.

“We have a first rate ambassador in Washington doing a very good job of relating both with the present administration and the administration to be, and there is no vacancy for that position,” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he pounded his fist in the House of Commons.

What else is happening:

  • Trump’s charitable foundation has admitted to the IRS that it violated a legal ban against “self-dealing,” which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families, The Washington Post reported.
  • A majority of American voters — 59% — believe Trump should shut down his personal Twitter account but 59% in a Quinnipiac University poll also say they are “optimistic” about the next four years under his leadership, Newsday’s Emily Ngo reports.
  • Trump is leaning toward asking Mitt Romney to be his secretary of state, The Wall Street Journal [pay site] reported.
  • Rudy Giuliani, who openly coveted the State Department job, could be named director of national intelligence, Conway said.
  • Trump said in a tweet he’s “seriously considering” Ben Carson, a onetime primary rival, for secretary of housing and urban development.
  • Chris Christie, cast out from Trump’s inner circle, said he expects to serve out the remaining 14 months of his term as New Jersey governor. Trump nearly chose Christie as running mate last July but went instead with Mike Pence, who took over the transition team from Christie after election.
  • Clinton is being urged by a group of election lawyers and computer scientists to challenge election results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — states Trump won. They assert statistical evidence suggests the returns may have been manipulated or hacked, New York Magazine said.

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