President-elect Donald Trump met with staff from The New York Times Tuesday hours after saying he'd backed out of the scheduled meeting with journalists at the newspaper.
Times reporters were live tweeting the interview with staff from the newsroom and opinion teams. He answered questions about the white nationalist-associated "alt-right" movement, potential conflicts between his business and the presidency, whether he wants to prosecute his election rival Hillary Clinton and more.
Trump said that he had "great respect for the Times" but thought he had been treated "very rough," reporter Mike Grynbaum wrote.
He told the publication that he wants to move on from years of investigations of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Despite his campaign promise that he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate his then-opponent Hillary Clinton, he reversed his stance and said Tuesday that his doing so “would be very, very divisive for the country.” He said he doesn’t want to hurt the Clintons, adding that he doesn’t think his supporters will be disappointed once he explains that “we, in many ways, will save our country.”
The president-elect also faced questions from reporters about whether he and his children face a conflict of interest by having roles in both the presidential transition and the Trump Organization.
He responded that “the president can’t have a conflict of interest,” but that he’s in the process of handing his business over to his children, anyway. He said of critics, “If it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again” to avoid any business-presidential conflict.
He has come under scrutiny about possible conflicts of interest recently after a meeting with British politician Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party, during which Trump brought up his own business concerns. The president-elect reportedly brought up the two Scottish golf courses he owns and his concerns that plans to build offshore wind farms would damage the resort's views of the skyline.
When asked Tuesday, Trump did not deny that that conversation had taken place.
He also publicly disavowed the white nationalist sympathizers who celebrated his election during an alt-right conference in Washington over the weekend. A reporter asked Trump for a comment about the event, during which attendees cheered Trump’s election and gave Nazi salutes.
“I disavow them and condemn them,” he said. "It's not a group I want to energize. And if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why."
But Trump did defend his appointment of Steve Bannon, former president of Breitbart News, to serve as his chief strategist and senior White House counselor.
Bannon has been criticized for his leadership of the news site, which has a history of publishing anti-Semitic, racist and misogynist content and is embraced by the alt-right and white nationalist groups. Trump told Times reporters that he does not think Bannon shares the same negative beliefs as the site's following.
"If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use, I couldn't even think about hiring him," he said.
And he praised his fellow Republicans in Congress and President Barack Obama, who he said is "looking to do absolutely the right thing for the country in terms of transition."
Trump shifted his rhetoric somewhat when asked about humans' role in climate change. The president-elect told reporters that there’s “some connectivity” there.
He said he’s keeping "an open mind" about whether to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, a multinational agreement on climate change — a stance that appeared to break dramatically with his previous remarks that climate change was a hoax.
“I think there is some connectivity,” he said Tuesday. “Some, something. It depends on how much.”
Whether the Times meeting would even happen was a saga that played out online early Tuesday morning, involving competing claims of who was responsible for canceling what is a common trip for major politicians to make. Politicians regularly visit major newspapers to discuss their policies and beliefs.
But the president-elect claimed in a tweet early Tuesday that the paper changed the rules of the meeting. The Times countered that Trump's transition team had tried to change the rules, not the newspaper.
"I cancelled today's meeting with the failing @nytimes when the terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last moment. Not nice," Trump tweeted Tuesday.
But several hours later, spokeswoman Hope Hicks told reporters gathered in Trump Tower that Trump was in fact "going to the New York Times" later in the day.
The head of communications at the Times, Eileen Murphy, tweeted that the newspaper was told by Trump's staff that the meeting was on again. She said Trump and Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. would meet off the record before Trump talks to journalists and editorial columnists on the record.
By 10:40 a.m., Trump tweeted he was looking forward to the meeting.
During the campaign he threatened to sue the Times over a story where two women accused him of touching them inappropriately years ago. A Trump lawyer also suggested he might sue after the paper wrote about and published part of his tax return from 1995.
A story published by the Times on Tuesday looked at how Trump's many business dealings could test a provision in the Constitution "should he continue to reap benefits from transactions with companies controlled by foreign governments."
Another article examined how a small group of super wealthy Americans, Trump included, "has laid the groundwork for an unprecedented legal assault on the media."
Trump has also accused the Times recently of losing thousands of subscribers. But the paper said it added 41,000 paid print and digital subscribers in the week since Election Day, the most in a week since it launched its digital pay wall in 2011.