The idea that Donald Jr. and Eric Trump will manage the company was more or less known before. The idea that the company will make “no new deals” while he is in office is so nonsensical as to be meaningless. Even if the Trump Organization makes no major acquisitions, or breaks ground on no new projects, it already has such a wide net of constantly evolving business relationships that there’s no avoiding conflicts of interest. Finally, there’s the vague promise of a press conference at some point in the future. If Trump can simply decide not to hold one on a firm date he’s previously announced, there’s little way to hold him to a nebulous one.
Which is probably just the point. The bait-and-switch is among Trump’s favorite tactics, especially as it relates to claims of transparency. As a candidate and now as president-elect, he followed a pattern: under pressure over some point, promise to do something at a future date; as that future date approaches, change plans; never follow through.
Aaron Blake rounds up a few of these in some detail. The press conference is one. Despite criticizing Hillary Clinton (rightfully) for not holding a press conference during a long stretch of the campaign, the man who was once eager to jaw with reporters hasn’t held a press conference since July 27. He’s been saying another one is imminent since the election.
The plan for how to separate himself from his businesses is another. First, he promised to put his company in a “blind trust” run by his children, a nonsensical statement that either reveals that Trump had no idea what a blind trust is or, more likely, that he was seeking to mislead. Then he promised details at Thursday’s planned news conference. But since he made that promise, congressional Republicans have signaled they’re uninterested in his conflicts of interest, making it fairly easy for him to postpone the conference until a later date, or never.
The most glaring example is Trump’s tax returns. Despite a longstanding tradition of presidential candidates releasing them, he refused to do so, citing the fact that he was being audited. The IRS confirmed that there was nothing legally blocking Trump from releasing the return, nor past year’s returns. But Trump kept saying he would release the taxes once the audit was complete. He has set no date.
This is yet another example of Trump’s savvy exploitation of the media, which is structurally incapable of really responding to this sort of feint. If the president-elect says he will hold a press conference on such and such a date to talk about X, that is clearly newsworthy, and so the press reports it, and Trump gets credit for whatever gesture toward transparency he has made. Then he quietly cancels later, and even if those cancelations are reported, they’re unlikely to have the same effect, both because a cancelation is not an exciting as an announcement and also for the same reasons that corrections are only somewhat effective.