Trump times: Bull and the bully pulpit (Washington Diary)
Washington, Jan 14 (IANS) They dumped a load of bull on him and he bulldozed them with some from a bully pulpit that would be truly his own in six days.
It was Russia here, Russia there and Russia everywhere all over again as Donald Trump faced the press for the first time since his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.
The Manhattan mogul had come down to the flag-bedecked lobby of Trump Tower from where he had begun his incredible run 18 months ago to tell how he would separate his business from the nation’s business.
The billionaire declared that he could run them both under the law, but he was walling himself off from his businesses on his own by handing the reins to his two adult sons.
Instead Trump faced questions about spymasters briefing him about an unverified report about Russian operatives claiming to have salacious personal and compromising financial information about him.
Dismissing it all as “a total political witch hunt!” he piled on the media calling ‘BuzzFeed” which had published the unverified 35 page dossier in full, a “pile of garbage” and refused to take a question from CNN for peddling “Fake News.”
“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me,” he said.
“Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Trump asked adding fuel to his feud with the nation’s spooks over their conclusion that the Russians had hacked Democrats to help him.
“Russia has never tried to use leverage over me,” he fumed asserting, “I have nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing!”
However, “I think it was Russia,” behind the hacks of his rival’s campaign, Trump reluctantly conceded for the first time.
But then Russia is not the only nation that hacks US targets, he said promising his team would get a full report on hacking in 90 days.
And if Russian President Vladimir Putin “likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability,” he declared “because we have a horrible relationship with Russia.”
This even his nominees for top cabinet jobs seemed to offer contrary views on Russia as they were grilled at their confirmation hearings before Senate panels.
Trump’s pick for secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, considered a “friend of Russia” called Putin a regional and international threat who should be countered with “a proportional show of force.”
“Mad Dog” James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, his choice for the top Pentagon job, supported the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump has derided as “one of the dumbest deals ever.”
And Republican lawmaker Mike Pompeo, who would run the CIA for Trump, embraced the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russian hacking calling it “an aggressive action taken by senior leadership inside of Russia.”
Listing Russia as well as China as “sophisticated adversaries” in the cyber realm, Pompeo pledged to provide policymakers with “accurate, timely, robust and clear-eyed analysis of Russian activities.”
Trump was fine with that too. “All of my cabinet nominees are looking good and doing a great job,” the billionaire tweeted saying he was not looking for yes men or clones.
“I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!” he wrote noting they had been chosen for their expertise.
Meanwhile, as the internal watchdog of the Justice Department opened a probe of FBI’s handling of Clinton’s email saga which Democrats claim cost her the presidency, Trump could not resist the temptation of taking a jab at his vanquished rival.
Calling her “guilty as hell”, Trump suggested, based on the information FBI had, that she should never have been allowed to run.
Still in a state of denial, many a Hollywood celebrity has declined to perform at Trump’s inauguration next Friday and hundreds of thousands of protesters plan to flood the National Mall overlooking the Capitol.
But Trump wants it to “be about the people,” rather than a “circus-like celebration that’s a coronation,” his inauguration committee chair, Tom Barrack told The Hill.
“His instruction to me was, the campaign is over,” he said, “I am now president for all the people. I want you to build a bridge and tie them back in.”
Giving the ever yawning political divide, it sounds like a tall order.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>)