Similarly, in his defense, senior advisor Kellyanne Conway announced during an interview that we shouldn’t listen to his words, but rather, look at “what’s in his heart.”
There were no MRIs available, but certainly this particular conference was loaded with both visual and verbal cues, some of them unintended, that we can plumb.
It started with a bigger bang than expected, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Vice President-Elect Pence slamming “fake news” and throwing around the words “disgrace” and "outrage” by way of introduction.
And then, Trump stepped to the podium, in front of the forest of American flags. He said: “Thank you very much, this is very familiar territory — news conferences — because we used to give them on an almost daily basis.”
This statement, meant to blame and punish the media, suggested he had to stop giving the almost-daily events because he hadn’t been covered honestly, is imprecise, to put it nicely.
Granted, while he was campaigning, Trump made himself available for interviews with TV personalities and anchors on news shows at least every day and mostly several times a day.
One of Trump’s great strengths was how much free airtime he garnered, and how good he was at filling it. He avoided the need for paid media that way, and it was win-win: The media was totally complicit in using him for ratings.
Still, Trump never gave “almost daily” press conferences by any stretch of the imagination.
But why get bogged down on what he said right out of the gate, when there are so many other issues at stake?
Speaking of steaks, there was some beef about the second of Trump’s three memorable press conferences. (The first, of course, started with the unforgettable down-escalator ride, after which he announced his candidacy.)
At the second, in Florida, he spoke in front of an enormous table laden with Trump products. His visual instincts as a salesman are dazzling; the eye was drawn to all those delicious and important-looking Trump goods. But on closer inspection, it turned out most of them no longer existed — or were not owned by him.
Trump was going for a similar visually symbolic display at this week’s presser, where a table teeming with manila folders was set up on the side of the podium.
To his credit, the plan with this press conference was to speak about conflicts of interest, ethics and signing over the running of his businesses to his sons, Don and Eric. Thus, the folders symbolized all of the deals he had signed away in order to serve as president.
So it is unfortunate the entire conference got monopolized by BuzzFeed’s decision, the previous day, to dump a dossier of pages that made unsubstantiated claims about Trump’s putative kinky behavior in a Moscow hotel room years ago.
Never verified, the content had been collected as “oppo-research” — and as such, had been floating around in D.C. government and press circles for months.
To me, what Trump was heard on tape saying on the bus with Billy Bush about “pussy”-grabbing was far worse than any putative peeing set-up.
But the point here is that the Russians, through sexpionage, might have collected information on our now-President they could eventually use to blackmail him. (An act known as “Compromat.”)
CNN did not link to the BuzzFeed report on its Web site, as the Trump campaign maintained. The cabler had reported the story legitimately because, as has now been discovered, both Trump and President Obama had been briefed on what was in the dossier.
At the morning press conference, however, the outrage was still fresh. Trump could now be furious and newly sanctimonious about the horrors of the press. As a result, more like an Eastern European strongman than any president I’ve ever seen, he pointed at a CNN reporter, and in a version of “No soup for you!” yelled: “You are fake news! “
We will leave the Soup Nazi reference for another time, since, more seriously, Trump also used the presser to excoriate the intelligence community, whom he accused of using Nazi-like tactics.
But in their attempt to get their hacking questions answered, the press never asked Trump about his own time in the fake news biz, when he fathered the search for President Obama’s birth certificate.
At the conference, Trump did admit, briefly, that Russia was involved in the hacking of the DNC, and that it was wrong, but quickly dissembled and scrambled in another direction.
“But …look at what was learned from that hacking,” he said. “That Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing...Can you imagine what if Donald Trump got the questions to the debate? It would have been the biggest story in the history of stories. And they would have said, ‘Immediately, you have to get out of the race.’”
Well, he did, and it wasn’t, and they didn’t.
As I wrote about last week, in information that Fox anchor Megyn Kelly saved to put in the post-election publication of her book, she said Trump knew she was going to question him about women at the debate. He had already called on then-Fox News head Roger Ailes to complain.
(She also mentioned she may or may not have been poisoned on the day of the debate, by a driver who insisted on bringing her coffee. She started vomiting violently immediately after taking a few sips. That sounds very Soviet-like.)
Certainly, the results of the email hacks of Hillary’s campaign were reported with glee. No one investigated whether what was reported in John Podesta’s hacked email was true. (Nor can anyone find the “horrible things” that Trump claims Podesta said about Hillary in the emails, either.)
Donna Brazile, who reportedly told Clinton’s organization there would be a Flint, Michigan, question in one of the debates, resigned from the DNC.
Back to the original point of the press conference: Trump talking about divesting himself from running his business to avoid questions of ethics and conflicts of interest. He brought up a lawyer, Sheri Dillon, to explain why he can’t have a “fire sale” or enter into standard behavior for presidents: a blind trust.
By the end, Trump said: “But these papers [meaning folders] are all just a piece of the many, many companies that are being put into trust to be run by my two sons.” He announced he would have no communication with them about the businesses.
Still, as showman and brander-in-chief, he just couldn’t help himself. He had to add a self-referential branding “joke”: “At the end of eight years, I'll come back and say, ‘Oh, you did a good job.’ Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I'll say, 'You're fired.'"
So there we have it. That’s his psychological tell, showing there is no way he won't have communication or overreach with his sons. If you believe that he won’t, I have some Trump steaks to sell you.
If we can’t believe his words, and can’t see inside his heart, maybe we can check inside his folders.
Reporters who were there said the pages inside the folders appeared to be blank.