Security

Trump refuses to divest, admits that Russia may be behind hacks

Comment

Image Credits: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

At his first proper press conference as President-elect, Trump and team provided answers for a number of long-burning questions, sort of. Trump held his last full press conference on July 27 and months later canceled plans for a December 15 press event at which he was expected to assuage concerns about his myriad conflicts of interest.

In an unconventional opening at Wednesday’s press event, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attacked the press, dismissing the unverified 35-page memo BuzzFeed chose to make available to the public as “frankly outrageous” (hard to argue) and “highly irresponsible” (not his call to make).

Spicer conflated CNN and BuzzFeed’s reporting around Russian blackmail on Trump, although CNN’s story was notable for its byline by venerable Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein and BuzzFeed was the first to publish the source documents, with a disclaimer that while they are indeed unverified, they hold enough potential credibility for Arizona Senator John McCain to have delivered a copy to FBI James Comey in December. Spicer claimed that “the report is not an intelligence report, plain and simple,” although his administration itself has given little credence to reports from the intelligence community and the document did indeed circulate among intelligence officials, making it difficult to dismiss outright.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence then took his turn castigating the captive press, gathered there for the rare opportunity to pose questions to the president-elect, who has shown a unique fear of or disdain for such press events and their off-the-cuff question and answer format. In a bizarre turn, Trump claimed that his campaign was famed for its frequent press conferences: “It’s very familiar territory, news conferences, because we used to give them on an almost daily basis. I think we probably maybe won the nomination because of news conferences and it’s good to be with you.” In fact, the campaign held press events extremely infrequently, a trend that shows signs of continuing.

Much of the press event, not unlike most press events, was 100 percent spin, though a few interesting developments — and one deeply consequential one — did emerge.

Trump unsurprisingly took the opportunity to cast himself as a victim of the BuzzFeed memo’s unverified allegations, one of his favorite tactics to employ against perceived political enemies. In yet another adversarial moment with the U.S. intelligence community, Trump cast the report and memo as a “tremendous blot” on the record of intelligence agencies. He went on to praise news organizations that withheld the report as “so professional — so incredibly professional” that he had “just gone up a notch as to what I think of you” — a clear message of potential reward for any outlets interested in playing softball with the Trump administration moving forward.

Back to jobs

Trump then shifted into his favored back-patting posture, citing both isolated and abstract points about job creation in the automotive, pharmaceutical and defense industries. He also paused to give a shout-out to the tech executives who’d recently made the pilgrimage to Trump Tower, including Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tesla’s Elon Musk (he did not mention Musk by name). Ma joins SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son in throwing some buzzy unearned job creation PR Trump’s way in exchange for a business edge in Trump’s economy.

“And I will say, if the election didn’t turn out the way it turned out, they would not be here. They would not be in my office. They would not be in anybody else’s office,” Trump claimed in an obvious reach. “They’d be building and doing things in other countries. So, there’s a great spirit going on right now. A spirit that many people have told me they’ve never seen before, ever.”

Trump blames Russian hacking, kind of

As the event moved from posturing into the Q&A, Trump deflected Tuesday’s reports of Russian kompromat as “fake news” by “sick people” who “shouldn’t have even entered paper.” Which paper was not specified, but we’ll assume he means something more akin to “been published.” He jumped from there to one of the biggest moments of the press conference, in which Trump appears to join the intelligence community at last:

“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. And I — I can say that you know when — when we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn’t make a big deal out of that. That was something that was extraordinary. That was probably China.”

If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability. Donald Trump

Trump appears to have shifted quickly from the DNC and Podesta hacks to 2015’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breach, pointing a finger at a more personally comfortable enemy. He then lobbed attacks at the DNC for doing a “poor job” protecting its digital assets compared to the RNC, although evidence suggests that the RNC indeed had some older servers penetrated, although the material was not leaked. In a third-person flourish moments later, Trump asserted that “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability.”

As reporters pressed further about the kompromat reports, Trump claimed to be well versed in the art of avoiding foreign surveillance:

“And I always tell them — anywhere, but I always tell them if I’m leaving this country, ‘Be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you’re gonna probably have cameras.’ I’m not referring just to Russia, but I would certainly put them in that category.”

And number one, “I hope you’re gonna be good anyway. But in those rooms, you have cameras in the strangest places. Cameras that are so small with modern technology, you can’t see them and you won’t know. You better be careful, or you’ll be watching yourself on nightly television.”

Trump will not divest

The real meat of the press conference dealt with Trump’s business conflicts of interest — a topic that the Trump team first said they’d address in mid-December. Trump batted away a few questions about his tax returns with the usual line about auditing before reassuring the press that his combined business dealings are “much bigger, much more powerful than they ever thought,” spread across “many, many countries,” which seems to only exacerbate ethics concerns around the Trump organization.

Trump then called in lawyer Sheri Dillon to explain how his family would — and would not — disentangle his finances from the highest office in the nation. According to Dillon, Trump is taking “extraordinary steps” with his finances, none of which will involve financial divestment or a blind trust, two of the most transparent, robust options. Dillon confirmed that Trump will hand over his business to his two sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. As many have noted, in a jarring break with tradition, Eric and Donald Jr. both attend meetings with their father, and were seated at the head of the table when the President-elect beckoned tech executives to Trump Tower last month.

He will only know of a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees it on TV. Sheri Dillon

In a comment that sets up a strange future in which Trump can blame the press itself for covering the Trump Organization’s conflicts of interest, Dillon stated that, “The president-elect will have no role in deciding whether the Trump Organization engages in any new deal and he will only know of a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees it on TV.” This does not seem possible, of course, unless he opts to stop speaking to the children running his business altogether.

The Trump organization will make “no new foreign deals” during his presidency, though, as Trump reminded us earlier during the same event, he has deals in many, many foreign countries already and those will remain. Domestic deals, on the other hand, are fair game for some reason, and Trump’s sons can contract with whom they please, subject to unspecified ethics reviews.

Beyond not divesting his assets and creating a not-at-all blind trust, Dillon announced that the Trump organization would not remove itself from the sticky issue of foreign leaders paying to stay at Trump hotels, opting instead to funnel foreign payments to those hotels directly to the United States Treasury.

“So, President-elect Trump has decided, and we are announcing today, that he is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotel to the United States Treasury. This way, it is the American people who will profit.”

Trump’s legal team seems confident that the American people will be appeased by this sleight of hand and that it will satisfy the much-discussed emoluments clause of the U.S. constitution which states:

“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

How Trump’s strange treasury proposal fits into those legal guidelines remains — as does so much else about the Trump administration — to be seen.

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

20 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

22 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android