DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's chat now with one of President-elect Donald Trump's most high-profile advisers. It's former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who, like Trump, led a political upheaval. That was 1994. Gingrich helped Republicans take control of both houses of Congress for the first time in decades on a set of promises called the Contract with America. Gingrich spoke with our MORNING EDITION colleague Rachel Martin. Rachel began by asking what he thinks Trump needs to do in the first hundred days to satisfy those who voted him into office.
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think he needs to set a direction that allows people who are deeply opposed to Obamacare to realize it's gradually going to be reformed and rethought. A lot of the initial phase, frankly, I suspect - I don't know for a fact - but I suspect that the opening 48 or 72 hours will have so many executive orders repealing Obama's executive orders that the average conservative will be giddy with excitement.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Donald Trump has been favoring a lot of so-called disrupters in his Cabinet appointments. A couple of them stand out. Rick Perry as the man to lead the Department of Energy - he's someone who's advocated shutting the agency down. Scott Pruitt has been tapped to lead the EPA - Pruitt at odds with the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. He's repeatedly sued to weaken EPA regulations. What is Donald Trump's message in these two particular appointments?
GINGRICH: That he was elected by people who believe Washington has too much power. The Washington bureaucracy is too arrogant and imperial. This was an election that had consequence. It probably rivals the Reagan election of '80 and the FDR election of '32 in that sense.
Obama, by the way, had a similar election but couldn't sustain it, partly because he kept lying.
And this will be a real test for Trump. If Trump remains honest and seems like a person who's authentic, he's going to go a long way. If under the pressure of this city he starts dissembling and saying things that aren't true, he'll decay as much as Obama did well on that.
MARTIN: Well, on that, how much does the perception of honesty have to do with transparency? There have been all kinds of calls for Donald Trump to be more transparent about his own financial holdings. Do you think that he needs to open the books? Does he need to be more transparent?
GINGRICH: I think they're going to have to find some system that convinces most reasonable people that they're operating within bounds of integrity and bounds that prevent corruption and prevent misuse of power.
MARTIN: So what does that look like?
GINGRICH: Well, I don't know. I mean, I've been suggesting that you find people like Attorney General Mukasey who are widely respected and have a panel of, like, five of them who have total access to everything and who are able to say on a regular basis, maybe monthly - you know, don't go over these bounds. This has to be fixed. That can't be done that way.
MARTIN: Is that something you've suggested to the transition team?
GINGRICH: It's something I've talked to the transition team about.
MARTIN: And what was their response?
GINGRICH: I think that's one of many things they're looking at.
MARTIN: But up until now, Donald Trump has just essentially said trust me.
GINGRICH: Right. That will not last. This is not a country that wanders around trusting people with power. This is a country that wants accountability. They want some sense - now, again, he is unique. And I totally defend him against those who, for example, want him to put his holdings in a blind trust, which is an absurd...
MARTIN: Why is that absurd?
GINGRICH: Well, a large part of his holdings are Trump Golf clubs, Trump Hotels. I mean, we have never quite had anyone of this scale to occupy the White House. And it's going to require us to think about - how do you deal with this in a way that's effective and that serves the interests of the country but also meets some kind of practical, common-sense test?
MARTIN: You said earlier this week on The Diane Rehm Show that Donald Trump could potentially use the power of the pardon if anyone in his administration seemed to be violating conflict of interest laws or protocols. Can you explain that?
GINGRICH: Sure. The Constitution gives the president of the United States an extraordinarily wide grant of authority to use the power of the pardon. I'm not saying he should. I'm not saying he will. It also allows the president, in a national security moment, to say to somebody - go do X, even if it's technically against the law. And I'm - here's your pardon because I'm ordering you as commander in chief to go do this.
MARTIN: Does that sit well with you, the idea that President Trump could pardon a member of his family or his administration if that person was acting in the best interest of his corporation but not the government?
GINGRICH: Well, look, I'm not advocating it. I'm pointing out that it is within the Constitution and that we should be aware of it. But I think there needs to be a re-evaluation of both sides. He has to understand and his family has to understand that there is a public interest which transcends them. At the same time, we have to understand that this is a new situation we've never seen before. And the rules were written for people who were dramatically less successful, who literally do not work.
MARTIN: He was supposed to hold a press conference last week where he was going to outline how he intended to create a bright line between himself and his business. He canceled that press conference. There are no plans for when he will hold it. Do you think that he needs to come out and make an announcement and to do it soon?
GINGRICH: Well, I suspect - I don't know this - but I suspect that they got drowned in picking the Cabinet. But they're going to have to do it sooner or later. I mean, the longer they wait, the greater the irritation will be and the more concerned people will be. So it's not to their advantage, you know, to get to the inaugural without having sorted this out.
But they need to have the help of pretty wise outsiders who are able, in a dispassionate way, to help them sort through this. I mean, they've never done anything like this before. And I certainly don't expect them, on phase one, to fully appreciate how complicated it is and how dangerous it is for the country. This is a country in which 75 percent of the people believe there's widespread corruption. We have got to go back to re-establishing a sense of trust. That has to be an assignment Trump takes personally. And that has to be more than trust me because trust me never works in the long run as a model. It's just - it's not possible.
MARTIN: What do you anticipate your role being in the administration going forward?
GINGRICH: Strategic planner.
MARTIN: That's awfully big. Can you narrow that down? What part of the government strategy are you going to be planning?
GINGRICH: It is big. But on the other hand, you know, as speaker of the House and then later having worked with the Bush administration, I've been working on these issues for 58 years. You know, I have - you know, and I've really spent a long time trying to think about - what do we need to do to get this government to be effective?
MARTIN: You say you've been working on these issues. Others might say you've been working in the swamp, to use Donald Trump's language.
GINGRICH: Although he - I'm told he now disclaims that. He now says it was cute but he doesn't want to use it anymore.
MARTIN: He doesn't want to use drain the swamp anymore?
GINGRICH: I don't know. I saw - somebody that note last night because I'd written a - what I thought was a very cute tweet about the alligators are complaining.
GINGRICH: And somebody wrote back and said they were tired of hearing this stuff.
MARTIN: Did you take offense as an alligator?
GINGRICH: I'm becoming more statesman-like in this interview. But I've noticed on a couple of fronts, like people chanting lock her up, that he's in a different role now. And maybe he feels that as president - you know, as the next president of the United States, that he should be marginally more dignified than talking about alligators and swamps.
I, personally, as a sense of humor, like the alligator and swamp language. I think it actually - I think it vividly illustrates the problem because all the people in this city who are the alligators are going to hate the swamp being drained. And there's going to be constant fighting over it. But - you know, he is my leader. And if he decides to drop the swamp and the alligator, I will drop the swamp and the alligator.
MARTIN: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Thank you so much for your time.
GINGRICH: Thank you. Bye-bye.
GREENE: That was my colleague Rachel Martin talking to Newt Gingrich.
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