When Donald Trump steps from his golden elevator in Trump Tower to address the assembled ranks of the world’s media later today, it will be 167 days since his last press conference – the one, you’ll remember, when he encouraged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. After November’s election he did say he would announce how he planned to reconcile his business interests with holding the post of world’s most powerful man on December 15. But that was cancelled and since then the accusations, concerns and questions have simply piled up.
Another bombshell came last night when reports emerged that US intelligence officials believe Russia may have collected compromising information about the President-elect. But whether sensitive American hacks will today bring up the alleged goings on at the centre of these reports is anyone’s guess.
Then there are those business entanglements. This week his transition team announced that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, would take up a role of senior adviser, thus exposing a fresh range of potential overlaps between policy and commerce. For his part, Kushner says he will resign from his real estate business, sell off his foreign investments and recuse himself from any White House dealings that might affect his remaining holdings.
Yet no previous president has ever had such a level of potential conflicts, nor anything like the same number of billionaires in his administration. And then there are the accusations of nepotism, as Trump builds his administration in the image of his company, where his family act as the strongest among competing power blocs.
Such questions make today’s encounter with the press a tantalising prospect. What sort of Trump will we get? The same combative figure who campaigned with bombast and bluster, or will he pick his way carefully through the traps laid out in the questions? Journalists are already spoiling for a fight, eager to protect the special privileges they are afforded by the First Amendment – guaranteeing freedom of the press – from a president who looks intent on keeping them at arm’s length.
There are some clues about how things will go down from the way his officials have prepared the turf – referring specifically to a ‘news conference’ rather than a ‘press conference’. That was an old trick of Richard Nixon, designed to remind everyone that it is the president who sets the agenda not the questioners. Trump could even go one further, turning on his heel after reading a statement and exiting before any questions are asked. Throughout the campaign, Trump proved masterful at making the press appear to be bystanders rather than a force for holding candidates to account.
This morning’s press conference – or news conference or public statement or whatever it turns out to be – comes at a crucial time and may provide some answers about Trump plans to navigate accusations of conflict of interest and how he will manage his relationship with Russia. But it will certainly go some way to show how be plans to handle the media once he takes office next week.