President-elect Donald Trump took the podium at his first press conference since his upset victory in the November election and formally addressed the recent publication of an unsubstantiated dossier of reports about the 70-year-old’s dealings with — and alleged personal behavior in — Russia.
“I must say that I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies – who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they did do that, a tremendous blot,” Trump said from Trump Tower on Wednesday. “Because a thing like that should have never been written – it should never have been had. It shouldn’t certainly have never been released.”
On Tuesday, Buzzfeed News published a 35-page document containing unsubstantiated claims about Trump’s alleged dealings with the Russian government, purported to be prepared by a former British intelligence officer, according to The New York Times.
According to CNN, U.S. intelligence officials briefed President Obama and Trump on Friday on a two-page summary of the allegations.
Trump said he’s not allowed to talk about what happened in his highly classified briefing. But, he added, “I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information, I read the information —outside of that meeting — it’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”
He blamed “sick people and they put that crap together.”
Trump later had a shouting match with CNN’s Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, who repeatedly spoke out to try and ask a question while Trump admonished him as a member of the “fake news.”
Later, Acosta said on CNN of the incident, “I felt it was only fair that if our news organization was going to be attacked that we got to ask a follow-up question,” adding that Sean Spicer, Trump’s incoming White House press secretary, threatened to throw him out of the press conference if he “did that again.”
In response, CNN issued a statement on Wednesday, saying, in part, “CNN’s decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than Buzzfeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos. Trump’s team knows this. They are using Buzzfeed’s decision to deflect from CNN’s reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations. We are fully confident in our reporting.”
Later in the press conference, Trump was asked why he referenced Nazi Germany in a tweet earlier Wednesday about the leaked report of allegedly compromising intelligence.
“I think it was disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and a disgrace … and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do,” he said.
Spicer called it “frankly outrageous and highly irresponsible” journalism, and called Buzzfeed “a left-wing blog that was openly hostile” to Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 campaign, later adding that the organization is a “failing pile of garbage.”
“The fact that Buzzfeed and CNN made the decision to run [the story] …is a sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks. The report is not an intelligence report, plain and simple.”
Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, who stepped to the mic just before Trump, called the published reports an effort to “delegitimize and demonize” the incoming president.
While Trump continued to chafe at U.S. intelligence findings that Russians were behind last year’s hacking of the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign email accounts in order to influence the election in Trump’s favor, the president-elect finally acknowledged: “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia but I think we also get hacked by other countries, other people.”
The president-elect bristled at a question about conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election was meant to favor Trump: “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability. I don’t know that I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do, but there’s a good chance I won’t.”
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He added, “And if I don’t, do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Gimme a break.”
As for the long lag between his last press conference and this one, Trump said: “We stopped giving [press conferences] because we were getting quite a bit of inaccurate news.”
Trump’s opening praise for the news outlets that did not run the most recent reports is in stark contrast to statements the president-elect made in recent weeks.
“I just want to compliment many other people in the room: I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that,” he told the reporters on Wednesday.
However, just three days earlier he wrote on Twitter, “Media is fake!”
As for his much-heralded campaign promise to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it, Trump affirmed Wednesday recent reports that American taxpayers would initially foot the bill.
“I want to get the wall started, I don’t want to wait a year and a half while I get my deal with Mexico… Mexico will pay for the wall but it will be reimbursed.”
Trump further promised to name his pick for the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by late Justice Antonin Scalia in the first days of his presidency.
He also touched on the thorny policy question of what to do with President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, through which millions of Americans have their health insurance. Trump quashed speculation that his administration would take its time with the matter. Instead, he promised to act as soon as his nominee to head Health and Human Services – Representative Tom Price of Georgia – is confirmed by the Senate.
“We’re going to do repeal and replace” essentially simultaneously, Trump promised without any detail. “Probably the same day, could be the same hour… Very complicated stuff.”
Trump lawyer Sheri A. Dillon of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP also spoke for some time during the press conference, detailing the president-elect’s plans to separate from his global business dealings.
Dillon said that Trump’s assets are being transferred into a trust, and his sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., will take over. Further, an ethics adviser will be brought on. She said that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, “will have no further involvement” with the organization.
Trump ended the conference with a callback to his Apprentice days, saying he would tell his sons “you’re fired” if they don’t handle his business dealings well.
The question-and-answer session in the lobby of Trump Tower went on for 58 minutes and included the elliptical bluster — long on ego, short on specifics – that is the businessman’s signature. “I said that I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created,” Trump said. “And I mean that, I really — I’m going to work very hard on that. We need certain amounts of other things, including a little bit of luck, but I think we’re going to do a real job.”