After a tumultuous Tuesday morning in which Donald Trump claimed he’d cancelled his off- and on-the-record meetings with members of the New York Times editorial staff, the president-elect paid a visit to the paper of record’s offices. The latter conversation was live-tweeted by politics reporter Maggie Haberman and recounted on the Times‘ website, where readers could review snippets and limited amounts of annotation provided by Haberman and the other writers.
Much of what President Barack Obama’s successor had to say raised more than a few eyebrows, but the way he brushed off questions about whether or not his private business dealings would pose a serious conflict of interest particularly bothered the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza. According to Haberman, Trump responded to these questions by saying “the law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
The Times published the same quote, albeit with several bullets detailing the extent to which Trump didn’t think any conflicts would, or could, arise:
Mr. Trump brushed aside questions about conflicts arising from his business dealings, declaring that “the law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
“In theory,” Trump added, “I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.” Considering the breadth of the president-elect’s business interests, and how these otherwise private affairs have been affected by his presidential campaign, Trump isn’t wrong to think his case unique. Yet his suggestion that his becoming President of the United States makes him immune to possible conflicts of interest is telling.
That, and as Cillizza notes, makes the Donald sound an awful lot like former President Richard Nixon. “Trump’s statement carried considerable echoes of Richard Nixon’s famous/infamous line to interviewer David Frost three decades ago: ‘Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.'” In the interview quoted, which was the subject of the 2008 film Frost/Nixon, the disgraced politician found himself befuddled by Frost’s questions about the Watergate scandal and the ensuing controversy, at which point he uttered the famous “not illegal” line.
Cillizza doesn’t think Trump was purposefully channeling Nixon. As to whether or not he actually believes he’ll be immune to conflict of interest laws when president, however, there’s a good chance the president-elect actually believes this. After all, his adviser and media surrogate Rudy Giuliani said as much while discussing the matter with CNN’s Jake Tapper:
“Well, first of all, you realize that those laws don’t apply to the president, right? So, the president doesn’t have to have a blind trust. For some reason, when the law was written, the president was exempt.”
“For some reason”? Remember, Giuliani wants the news media to speculate about his possibly becoming Trump’s attorney general or secretary of state. We should soon know whether he nabs either of those positions.