Trump shifts on campaign vows
President-elect steps back from Clinton, climate change, torture
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump abandoned some of his most tendentious campaign promises Tuesday, saying he does not plan to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email system or the dealings of her family foundation, has an “open mind” about a climate change accord from which he vowed to withdraw the United States and is no longer certain that torturing terrorism suspects is a good idea.
The billionaire real estate developer also dismissed any need to disentangle himself from his financial holdings, despite rising questions about how his global business dealings might affect his decisionmaking as the nation’s chief executive.
“The law’s totally on my side. The president can’t have a conflict of interest,” Trump told editors and reporters of The New York Times during an hourlong question-and-answer session. “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.”
Trump further sought to distance himself from a small, far-right movement known for its embrace of racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric that has celebrated Trump’s election.
“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” Trump said of the alt-right.
The president-elect has a record of making statements that are inconsistent with his previous ones, which means it is uncertain whether any of the positions he espoused Tuesday will hold in the days going forward.
His stance on Clinton, the former secretary of state, was a pivot from the presidential campaign, during which he called her “Crooked Hillary” and threatened during one of their debates to put his Democratic opponent in jail.
At his rallies and during the Republican convention in Cleveland, Trump’s supporters would regularly chant, “Lock her up!”
But on Tuesday, he said: “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons. I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.”
Asked whether that meant he had ruled out appointing a special prosecutor, as he had said he would, Trump said: “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about.”
If Trump were to push or try to block a criminal investigation from the Oval Office, it would mark an extraordinary break with political and legal protocol, which holds that the attorney general and FBI make decisions on whether to conduct probes and file charges, free of pressure from the president.
The president- elect’s new position may also have no effect on the plans of other members of his party on Capitol Hill. President-elect Donald Trump answers questions during a meeting Tuesday at The New York Times in New York.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, RUtah, who is finishing his first term leading the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has vowed to continue to investigate Clinton’s email server.
An attorney for Clinton, David Kendall, declined to comment.
Trump also shifted position on climate change, saying he believes there is “some connectivity” between human activity and rising global temperatures.
In 2012, he had brushed off that idea as a Chinese hoax, tweeting: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Asked whether he plans to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord, he said he is keeping “an open mind to it.”
The deal negotiated by nearly 200 countries last year commits them to a global push to reduce greenhouse gases.
Trump, however, has repeatedly said the agreement is bad for U.S. businesses.
Trump signaled another shift on the question of how to treat terrorism suspects.
During his presidential campaign, he had said that he would reinstate the use of waterboarding and similar interrogation techniques in the questioning of suspected terrorists.
But Tuesday he suggested he might have changed his mind after interviewing a leading candidate for secretary of defense, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who headed the U.S. Central Command.
Mattis argued that he had never found harsh interrogation techniques “to be useful,” Trump said, adding that the retired general preferred building trust with “a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers.”
“I was very impressed by that answer,” Trump said.
Trump spoke about the implications of an unprecedented situation in which a businessman with global holdings will sit in the Oval Office. That prospect has prompted criticism that there will be inevitable conflicts of interest.
While no statute requires divestment by the president, all of them in modern history have put their assets under independent management, generally through a blind trust.
The concern is to avoid running afoul — in actuality or appearance — of laws against bribery and other forms of corruption.
Trump noted that he has turned the management of his businesses over to his children, but he protested: “If it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again.”
But his comments fueled more criticism.
“Donald Trump campaigned against a culture of self-enrichment in Washington and pledged to ‘drain the swamp,’ but made clear today that he doesn’t think the rules apply to him,” Democratic National Committee communications director Adam Hodge said in a statement. “He fully intends to use the Oval Office to expand his family’s wealth.”