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Dana Milbank: Trump updates? Wait for tweets

By Dana Milbank Washington Post

It’s time for the presidential transition team’s daily news teleconference.

“Let’s go ahead and open it up to a couple of questions,” Donald Trump spokesman Jason Miller announces at Monday’s installment.

Will the president-elect be staying at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida through the new year?

“Wouldn’t want to go and forecast next week’s schedule,” Miller replies.

Will Trump keep the Internal Revenue Service commissioner until his term ends?

“No decision yet on that front.”

Will Trump keep the D.C. “Taxation Without Representation” license plates on the presidential limousine?

“Don’t want to speculate on that.”

Will he name businessman Toby Neugebauer ambassador to Mexico?

“I don’t know if I’ll have an answer for you.”

Will Trump make any more public appearances while in Florida?

“Don’t want to speculate on that,” Miller says.

The Q&A is six minutes and 17 seconds old. “And that,” the operator says, “is all the time we have for questions.”

Trump hasn’t had a news conference in 145 days. But that’s OK: His able spokesmen, on a daily basis, are very capable of saying nothing in his stead.

It’s really not the fault of Miller and Trump’s other mouthpieces. Their boss communicates largely via incendiary messages of 140 characters or fewer that spark and fan international disputes, and nobody seems to know what he’s up to – not even those who work for him, apparently. The result is a presidency-in-waiting that is alternately alarming and opaque: If the Trump transition is a dumpster fire, those in charge of containing the blaze are armed with squirt guns.

Trump has held a series of campaign-style rallies for his supporters in states that he won, using the occasions to attack the media and to crow about his victory. He has dismissed the notion that Russia meddled in the U.S. election to boost his candidacy – in the process disparaging the American intelligence community and putting himself at odds with congressional Republicans. He’s appointed a squadron of billionaires and business leaders to serve in his administration after campaigning to help the forgotten little man. He’s blown off national security briefings. He’s using Twitter to infuriate China, and to bicker with Vanity Fair because he didn’t like the magazine’s review of a Trump Tower restaurant.

But while Trump was willing to pose with reporters for photos at an off-the-record holiday party at Mar-a-Lago on Sunday, he hasn’t been willing to explain his thinking beyond tweets and campaign-style speeches. And his aides are struggling to do the ’splaining. On CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway attacked President Obama and his administration – only days after she lavishly praised them for their handling of the transition. And on “Fox News Sunday,” incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus dismissed the allegations of Russian interference in the election as the product of “third parties,” even though the CIA director made the allegations himself.

Then there’s Miller’s daily teleconference briefing, at which he’s often joined by the Republican National Committee’s Sean Spicer. The sessions begin with a preamble about the truly huge and amazing things Trump does. Miller’s Monday briefing portrayed the various people and happenings involving the president-elect as great, beautiful, world class, visionary, rigorous, very impressive, outstanding, exceptional, big, strong, very fun and deep.

But when it comes to explaining what Trump is actually thinking or planning, the answers are rather less rigorous, impressive or deep. A sampling from last week:

On Monday, a reporter sought a description of the vetting process.

“We’re not going to get into the exact procedures and tactics,” was the reply.

On Tuesday, a questioner asked whether Trump will have any Democrats in his Cabinet.

“I wouldn’t speculate at this point,” Miller answered.

On Wednesday came a question about how Trump would deal with conflicts of interest.

“This will be something that comes up at the press conference the president-elect will now be holding in January,” Miller offered.

Thursday brought a question about Trump’s dispute with the CIA over Russia’s hacking.

“I’d let the president-elect’s tweets speak for themselves,” Miller ventured.

On Friday there was an inquiry about Trump’s vow to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The reply: “I do not have at this time a schedule that I’m going to be able to share about timing on that.”

Another reporter asked about the choice of an agriculture secretary.

Miller cautioned against “writing that decisions have or have not been made on that front until we hear directly from the president-elect.”

Hear directly from the president-elect? Now that would be news.

Dana Milbank is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.