On Jan. 20, Donald Trump will take the oath of office having never released his tax returns, the first incoming president not to do so in four decades. | Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Annie Karni
12/23/16 – 05:58 AM EST
- He is shining a light on how much of the American political system is encoded in custom and how little is based in the law.
President-elect Donald Trump has said he might do away with regular press briefings and daily intelligence reports. He wants to retain private security while receiving secret service protection, even after the inauguration. He is encouraging members of his family to take on formal roles in his administration, testing the limits of anti-nepotism statutes. And he is pushing the limits of ethics laws in trying to keep a stake in his business.
In a series of decisions and comments since his election last month — from small and stylistic preferences to large and looming conflicts — Trump has signaled that he intends to run his White House much like he ran his campaign: with little regard for tradition. And in the process of writing his own rules, he is shining a light on how much of the American political system is encoded in custom, and how little is based in the law.
On Jan. 20, Trump will take the oath of office having never released his tax returns, the first incoming president not to do so in four decades, and he has not given a press conference since he was elected, flouting another custom for presidents-elect. It remains to be seen whether he will file a personal financial disclosure during his first year in office. Presidents are not legally required to do so, but all have since 1978.
“If it’s not written down, you can get away with it. That’s the new premise. And that’s pretty staggering,” said Trump biographer Gwenda Blair, author of “The Trumps: Three Generations that Built an Empire.”
It’s a natural extension of how Trump ran his unorthodox presidential campaign and transition effort — but the expectations are different for a President Trump. “Candidate is one thing, president is another,” said Richard Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush. He added: “He said things that were clearly unconstitutional, but there’s no legal prohibition about saying you’re going to do something unconstitutional. There is against doing something unconstitutional.”
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