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Errol Louis: Donald Trump went to NYT to meet editors, writers instead of summoning them to Trump Tower

Louis: Trump knows it helps to have a cordial relationship with arguably the most powerful news organization in the world

Editor’s Note: Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

By taking the trouble of organizing a motorcade to make the 1.4 mile-trip from his Manhattan home to the headquarters of The New York Times, President-elect Donald Trump made a telling break with the choreography of the transition. The Times, arguably the world’s most powerful news organization, is an institution to which even an American president must pay a degree of respect.

Up to now, Trump, ever the showman, has created a spectacle by making followers, advisers job-seekers and other supplicants travel to Trump Tower or to Trump’s golf club in New Jersey to talk about the administration he is forming.

There is little secrecy to the process: Banks of news cameras have been on hand to record aspirants’ arrivals at Trump Tower, and C-SPAN even set up a static camera shot recording the building’s elevator bank, so that anyone can go online and see who’s coming and going.

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When Trump recently met with top staffers and anchors from various television news organizations (including CNN), the fact of the supposedly off-the-record discussion was broadcast and Trump’s caustic comments to the assembled journalists were quickly leaked.

That’s not what happened with the Times. Trump was “cordial and critical,” according to the paper, in contrast to the dressing-down he gave the television representatives, and candidly told the select group of top editors, columnists and political reporters assembled for his Times meeting that he hopes to develop a better relationship. “I think it would make the job I am doing much easier,” he said.

It was a marked change from the recent string of caustic tweets from the President-elect criticizing the “failing NY Times” and stating (falsely) that the newspaper is losing subscribers because of its tough coverage of Trump. In reality, the paper added 41,000 subscribers in the week after the election and remains a go-to source for incisive, accurate reporting on the transition.

It’s safe to assume the hostilities between Trump and the Times will resume soon. Trump shows no sign of taking steps to clarify or resolve the many conflicts of interest surrounding his nascent presidency. He has business entanglements across the globe, from China to Qatar to Venezuela, not to mention dealings with shady businesses in New York that federal investigators must keep track of. And because he refuses to release his tax returns, the full extent of the potential conflicts remain unknown.

Trump himself appears unconcerned about the problem, breezily telling the Times that, “The law’s totally on my side. The President can’t have conflicts of interest.”

Not exactly. Presidents are exempt from conflict-of-interest rules that apply to other federal employees, but our system of checks and balances means Trump will encounter questions he can’t duck about his business interests.

In an extreme case, Congress could initiate impeachment proceedings if they think a President Trump has violated a little-known constitutional prohibition against accepting gifts from foreign powers.

But the real challenge for Trump will be the less formal check provided by a free and independent press. If he intends to serve as President while simultaneously maintaining hundreds of secret domestic and foreign business relationships, he should expect endless investigative scrutiny from news organizations – including the Times.