President-elect Donald Trump has tweeted that millions of voters cast their ballot illegally. Nov. 27, 2016.

Barely two weeks after Donald Trump's election built on a host of promises from building a wall along the Mexican border to putting "crooked" Hillary Clinton in jail, he has already begun to withdraw or hedge on many of them.

He still insists that wall will go up and be paid for by Mexico. But at the risk of disillusioning millions of Hillary-haters who voted for him, he has pointedly backed off the threat to his defeated rival, showing a compassion never visible during the campaign.


"I don't want to hurt the Clintons," Mr. Trump said last Tuesday. "I really don't. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways." The worst, of course, was the humiliating Electoral College loss he handed her on Election Day, plunging her into what she admitted was a pit of personal as well as political gloom.

When Mr. Trump was asked about his pre-election plan as president to appoint a special prosecutor to go after her, he shrugged off the idea: "It's just not something that feel very strongly about." It was another flip-flop from the vigorous promise with which he had whipped his faithful flock into a frenzy of calls of "Lock her up!" on the campaign trail.

It was a day in which the president-elect also softened other previously stated firm positions. On climate change, he pivoted from being a total non-believer into saying there might be "some connectivity" between human activity putting carbon into the atmosphere and the sharp rise in global temperatures.

Asked again whether as president he will pull this country out of the 2015 international climate change accord reached in Paris, Mr. Trump now said he was keeping "an open mind to it."

He also backed off his campaign promise to reinstall the practice of waterboarding captured terrorist suspects, a practice of the previous Republican administration that under President Barack Obama deemed a violation of the Geneva Conventions on torture.

Mr. Trump reported that in interviewing retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as his possible secretary of defense, General Mattis had told him he had never found such harsh interrogation techniques "to be useful." Mr. Trump said he "was very impressed by that answer."

It's not yet clear whether all this backtracking is a concentrated effort by Mr. Trump to ease the widespread fears that he will be an authoritarian ruler or just his penchant for dodging or dismissing press queries on the run.

More significant may be Mr. Trump's continued insistence that as president he will not be barred from continuing his involvement in his vast real-estate business while essentially turning its operations over to three of his children, daughter Ivanka and sons Donald Jr. and Eric, and Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner.

To calls from legal quarters and political opponents that he place all his vast business holdings in blind trust administered by an independent party, Mr. Trump so far is standing fast against it.

"The law's totally on my side," he insisted in a meeting with New York Times editors and reporters. "The president can't have a conflict of interest. ... In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There's never been a case like this."

The comment, beyond reflecting the man's prodigious self-confidence, approached being an echo of the late President Richard Nixon's declaration after the Watergate scandal that ended in his 1975 resignation.

Asked by television interviewer David Frost whether "there are certain situations ... where the president can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation, and do something illegal," Mr. Nixon replied: "Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal." Certainly, it would be hard to imagine how it could be argued it would be in the nation's best interests for real-estate mogul Mr. Trump to continue to oversee Trump hotels in foreign countries while occupying the Oval Office.

But Americans and the world beyond have already learned that as far as he's concerned, nothing is impossible once he makes up his mind. The best legal scholars must weigh in on this one, and the sooner the better.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.