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NEW YORK (AP) – Two weeks after his election victory, President-elect Donald Trump began backing off campaign promises Tuesday, including his hard line on climate change and his vow to jail “Crooked Hillary” Clinton that had brought thunderous “Lock her up” chants at his rallies.
A top adviser said Trump is now focused on matters that are essential in setting up his administration, not on comments he made during the heat of the campaign.
After a year blasting The New York Times, Trump submitted to an interview with reporters and editors at their Manhattan office. Among the topics covered, he:
– Pushed back against questions about conflicts that could arise due to a lack of separation between his government post and his many businesses, declaring that “the law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
– Took his strongest stance yet against the “alt-right,” a term often used as code for the white supremacist movement. Though members are celebrating his victory, 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.”
– Spoke positively not only of fellow Republicans in Congress – “Right now they are in love with me” – but also of President Barack Obama, who he said is “looking to do absolutely the right thing for the country in terms of transition.”
Trump, who left late Tuesday to spend Thanksgiving at his estate in Florida, also continued to work to populate his incoming administration, officially asking GOP presidential rival Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a person familiar with the offer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the deliberations publicly. Carson is expected to respond after the holiday.
Adviser Kellyanne Conway said earlier on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Trump is “thinking of many different things as he prepares to become the president of the United States, and things that sound like the campaign aren’t among them.”
His interview comments on a possible prosecution of his former foe Clinton stood in stark contrast to his incendiary rhetoric throughout the campaign, during which he accused her breaking laws with her email practices and angrily barked at her that “you’d be in jail” if he were president.
“I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” Trump said in the interview. Sympathetically, he said, “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.”
Though he declined to definitively rule out a prosecution, he said, “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about.”
As for global warming, Trump has repeatedly questioned the idea, suggesting at times that it is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to hurt US manufacturers with environmental regulations.
But on Tuesday, he said he would “keep an open mind” about pulling the United States out of the landmark, multi-national Paris Agreement on climate change – he’d said in the campaign he would yank the US out – and he allowed, “I think there is some connectivity” between human activity and climate changes.