President-elect Donald Trump said there may be a connection between human activity and climate change, asserted conflict of interest laws don’t apply to a president, said the United States shouldn’t be a “nation builder” and said he never meant to energize white supremacists with his campaign.
In an on-the-record interview with The New York Times, reported live on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, Trump also signaled that he wouldn’t prosecute his rival in the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton, for her possible mishandling of classified emails.
In a one-hour exchange with the Times publisher, editors and reporters, Trump, a Republican, addressed a range of subjects, reinforcing some statements he made during the campaign and walking back others.
He defended his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, against accusations of racism, previewed an influential role in the administration for Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, and suggested he has changed his view of the usefulness of torture in terrorism probes..
Trump downplayed questions about whether his business dealings test constitutional limits on conflicts of interest.
He said he would have difficulty selling off all his holdings because they involve real estate and dismissed concerns about the Trump Organization’s ties to entities controlled by foreign governments.
He said “in theory” he could continue to run the company but he is “phasing that out right now” and turning it over to his children.
“The law’s totally on my side — the president can’t have a conflict of interest,” Trump said, although there are U.S. Supreme Court opinions that say the opposite. He later added: “In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.”
After saying during the campaign that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by China to damage U.S. competitiveness, Trump said of the human impact on global warming: “I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much.”
Trump said he’s reconsidering his promise to pull the United States out of the international Paris climate accord, saying: “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.”
When asked if he did things in the campaign to “energize,” the “alt-right” movement, Trump said he didn’t think so. He later said he disavowed Americans who embrace white supremacy.
“It’s not a group that I want to energize,” Trump said. “And if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”
Asked specifically about a white nationalist conference in Washington, D.C. over the weekend, at which some attendees had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute, Trump said: “I disavow and condemn them.”
Trump staunchly defended Bannon, former chief of Breitbart News, and rejected complaints that Breitbart promotes white nationalism.
“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,” Trump said of Bannon, who once called Breitbart the “platform” for the alt-right.
Asked about complaints from minorities about Breitbart, Trump said: “Breitbart is just a publication. They cover stories just like you cover stories. They are certainly a much more conservative paper, to put it mildly, than The New York Times. But Breitbart really is a news organization that has become quite successful. It’s got readers, and it does cover subjects on the right. But it does cover subjects on the left also.”
Trump also said he no longer wanted to prosecute Clinton for her handling of email or her dealings with the Clinton Foundation, reversing a vow he made during the second presidential debate and repeated at rallies to fire up supporters who chanted “Lock her up!”
Asked if he had definitely ruled it out, Trump said: “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about.”
On the Middle East and foreign affairs Trump said: “I don’t think we should be a nation builder.”
On Syria, he said: “we have to solve that problem.” While not disclosing specifics, he said “I have different view than everybody else.”
Trump said Kushner could help broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians and confirmed he’s considering appointing retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense.
Trump suggested he has changed his mind about the usefulness of torture after talking with Mattis, who headed the U.S. Central Command.
“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,’” Trump said.
Trump said Mattis found it better to build trust with terrorism suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better,’” Trump recalled Mattis saying. “I was very impressed by that answer.’’
Meanwhile, Trump expressed support for doing away with the Electoral College and going to a national popular vote for president, which would have brought Clinton victory on Nov. 8.
“I’d rather do the popular vote,” Trump said, adding that he was “never a fan” of the state-by-state electoral vote.
And Trump said he was no longer sure about changing libel laws.
He recalled a friend telling him: “You know, you might be sued a lot more.’ I said, ‘You know, I hadn’t thought of that.’”
In his own words
In his interview Tuesday with The New York Times, Donald Trump addressed subjects including:
— Business conflicts of interest. “The law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest,” he said. “In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.”
— White supremacists. “I disavow and condemn them.”
— Possible prosecution of Hillary Clinton. “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about. I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.”
— Reconsideration of his promise to withdraw from the international Paris climate change accord. “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.”
— President Barack Obama. “I think he’s looking to do absolutely the right thing for the country in terms of transition.”
— The use of torture in terrorism probes. Torture is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”