President-elect Donald Trump defends Putin in his first press conference
An always entertaining President-elect Donald Trump, had his first press conference since he won the White House on Wednesday. He adamantly denied reports that Russia had obtained compromising personal and financial information about him, calling it a “tremendous blot” on the record of the intelligence community if such material had been released.
After weeks of scoffing at reports that Russians had interfered in the election, he conceded publicly for the first time that Russia was likely responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said and quickly added that the United States is hacked by other countries as well, including China.
Trump said he was untroubled by the intelligence reports that have been made public, which said Russia preferred him over Hillary Clinton and that President Vladimir V. Putin ordered the election meddling to benefit him.
He harshly criticized the publication of unverified reports that claimed Russia has salacious information about his behavior and finances. “I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies let any information that turned out to be so false and fake to get out,” he said. Explaining his Twitter post comparing the United States to Nazi Germany, he said of the leaks: “That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.” Mr. Trump added that BuzzFeed is “a failing pile of garbage” that would suffer the consequences for publishing the uncorroborated report.
“I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information, I read the information outside of that meeting,” he said, a reference to a classified briefing he received from intelligence leaders. “It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen,” Trump said in a news conference that saw him repeatedly joust with reporters. “It was gotten by opponents of ours.”
Asked about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump boasted that it is an improvement over what he called America’s current “horrible relationship with Russia” and did not criticize the Russian leader for any interference in the election.”If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that’s called an asset not a liability. I don’t know if I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin – I hope I do – but there’s a good chance I won’t.”
Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer also denounced the report about Russia’s influence on Trump, and the incoming president said it never should have been released. He thanked some news organizations for showing restraint.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Tuesday night that intelligence officials had informed Trump last week about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had obtained compromising personal and financial information about him. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.
Media outlets reported on the document late Tuesday and Trump denounced it on Twitter before his news conference as “fake news,” suggesting he was being persecuted for defeating other GOP presidential hopefuls and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the election.
The dossier contains unproven information about close coordination between Trump’s inner circle and Russians about hacking into Democratic accounts as well as unproven claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump among other suggestions attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated any of the claims.
In other press conference highlights, Trump announced that he would nominate David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, elevating him from his current role as VA undersecretary.
He promised that a replacement for the health care overhaul would be offered “essentially simultaneously” with the repeal of Obama’s signature health law – something that would be virtually impossible to quickly pass given the complexity of the policy changes. Republicans agree on repealing the law but nearly seven years after its passage have failed to reach agreement on its replacement.
Trump has repeatedly said that repealing and replacing “Obamacare” was a top priority, but has never fully explained how he plans to do it. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that the House would seek to take both steps “concurrently.”