Trump held his first news conference since the election and three nominees had confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill. Here’s what’s going on:
President-elect Donald Trump’s first news conference since last summer managed to overtake a day full of transition news on Capitol Hill. For the first time, Trump said he believes it was Russia that hacked the Democratic National Committee, but he continued to downplay the idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin could manipulate him.
“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that’s an asset, not a liability,” Trump said in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan. “I don’t know if I’ll get along with Vladimir Putin . . . but even if I don’t, does anyone in this room think Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Putin than me? Give me a break.”
QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT TRUMP TIES TO BUSINESS
The ostensible purpose of Wednesday’s news conference was for Trump to reveal how he plans to divorce himself from his businesses for the next four years to avoid conflicts of interest.
This is where his lawyer, Sheri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, came in. In an unusual turn, Trump brought her to the microphone during the event to explain his plan: He will retain ownership of the Trump Organization but shift assets into a trust managed by his sons and give up his position as an officer of the company. The company will make no new foreign deals, Dillon said, and domestic deals will undergo an ethics review.
As for Trump’s new D.C. hotel, Dillon said profits from any payments from foreign governments will be donated to the U.S. Treasury.
PLAN IS INADEQUATE, SAYS FEDERAL ETHICS CHIEF
The announcement prompted a highly critical response from Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, who said Trump “doesn’t meet the standards . . . that every president of the past four decades has met.” The trust that will be run by Trump’s sons is “not even close” to the kind of blind trust ethics experts had called for, said Shaub, who was appointed by President Obama in 2013 to advise the executive branch.
VA SECRETARY ANNOUNCED
Trump also used the news conference to announce his pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs: David Shulkin, a physician now serving as VA undersecretary. He will be the first Obama administration holdover in Trump’s Cabinet.
TILLERSON, SESSIONS, CHAO UNDERGO HEARINGS
Several of Trump’s Cabinet nominees underwent confirmation hearings Wednesday, with secretary of state-designee Rex Tillerson receiving sharp questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and secretary of transportation-designee Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) enjoying a cozy, low-key welcome from the Senate Commerce Committee.
The big news out of Tillerson’s hearing was Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) tough questioning of the nominee, who needs Rubio’s vote to be confirmed. For example, Tillerson at one point declined to call Putin a war criminal, which Rubio called “discouraging.”
Meanwhile, in the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) delivered a passionate speech explaining why he will break with tradition and oppose his colleague Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for attorney general. His remarks were the first time a sitting senator has testified against another’s nomination for a Cabinet post.
Sessions did not appear as a witness for his second day of hearings.
YOUR GUIDE TO TOMORROW’S HEARINGS
Three other Trump picks will face questioning on Thursday:
- Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, nominated for defense secretary, will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m.
- Ben Carson, nominated for housing and urban development secretary, will appear before the Senate Banking Committee at 10 a.m.
- Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), nominated for CIA director, will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee at 10 a.m.
Follow our updated guide to the hearing schedule here.