Trump was at home for his news conference — both literally and figuratively
Making demands on replacing Obamacare and insulting a key Republican senator were two ways Trump displayed his independent streak at the news conference.
It might have been unprecedented for a president-elect to hold his first news conference in a luxury shopping mall, but Donald Trump was very much in his element in the swirl of pink marble and gold plating that is the lobby of Trump Tower.
More composed than during the presidential debates, Trump swatted away like summer mosquitoes a fusillade of questions about a dossier that claims he was being blackmailed by Moscow. He even got in a few chuckles denying allegations that he consorted with Russian prostitutes.
“I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way,” said Trump, pausing expertly for the laughter to settle down.
After a long explanation of how he was turning over his business to a trust run by his sons, Donald and Eric, Trump said, “I hope at the end of eight years, I’ll come back and say you did a good job. Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I’ll say, ‘You’re fired.’”
For the moment, he was back on “The Apprentice.”
It was a performance that was vintage Trump: short on details, long on showmanship.
Trump used more hand gestures than an Italian boulevardier. His hands were wide open to solicit trust when he said “Believe me,’’ referring to his plans to replace Obamacare. He expressed his disdain for government bureaucracy with a gesture of a slow wheel turning.
For props, Trump’s aides carried in large stacks of manila file folders, which they heaped on a table next to the podium. Trump explained that the folders contained “some of the many documents that I’ve signed turning over complete and total control to my sons.”
Precisely what was in the folders wasn’t clear. Nobody opened them during the news conference and they sat there until the end, when a burly aide scooped them in his arms and carried them back into the elevator. A press assistant shooed away members of the media who tried to photograph the stacks, which contained several hundred folders with white sheets of paper inside bound by binder clips.
With the release on Tuesday night of the salacious and unverified reports of Russian blackmail, Trump doubled down on his attacks on the news media. He called BuzzFeed, the news site that published the dossier, “a failing pile of garbage,” and warned ominously, “They’re going to suffer the consequences.” Trump got into an argument with CNN reporter Jim Acosta, refusing to take his question and calling him rude.
“I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news,” Trump told the reporter.
“Mr. President-elect, that’s not appropriate,” Acosta shot back.
Trump then took a question about the need for reforms in the media from a reporter for Breitbart News, the ultra-right-wing website whose former chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, now a Trump aide, watched from the side of the podium with a gaggle of other Trump advisors. Along with Trump’s oldest children, Donald, Eric and daughter Ivanka, the aides provided a constant soundtrack of applause and cheers at the appropriate moments.
Despite the confrontational exchanges, Trump appeared calmer and more confident than he had in other adversarial forums. He didn’t appear to sweat. He didn’t pace.
Long overdue and anticipated, the news conference was Trump’s first since the Nov. 8 election and it was a standing-room-only affair. Trump said he had stopped giving news conferences “because we were getting quite a bit of inaccurate news.”
The news conference lasted a little longer than one hour, roughly a quarter of it devoted to a detailed presentation by lawyer Sherri Dillon about the trust that would manage Trump’s real estate empire during his presidency.
Outside Trump Tower, protesters lined Fifth Avenue, promising in the waning days of the transition to stop the incoming administration. “No!” read the signs above the crowd. “Stop Trump/Pence Fascist regime before it starts.”
Whether by design or oversight, there were no microphones for the media so the questions were impossible to hear at the back of the room, and even transcripts of the event listed many questions as “inaudible.” In contrast, Trump was well-miked and his voice boomed through the atrium.
It was perhaps fitting for a real-estate-mogul-turned-statesman that the atrium of Trump Tower had to be similarly transformed from a shopping mall to a presidential media center. A bright blue curtain was draped behind Trump, blocking the view of his daughter Ivanka’s jewelry boutique, while curtains toward the back covered the windows of a Gucci store. Secret Service agents watched from a Starbucks on the mezzanine above where Trump was speaking.
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