Trump Snubs Russia, Ethics Concerns in News Conference

  • President-elect derides publication of unverified spy memos
  • Trump to depart from business positions but won’t divest

Trump on Russia Allegations: It’s All Fake News

Donald Trump confronted two of his biggest political challenges days before he becomes president, laying out a plan to avoid business conflicts while in office and brushing aside unsubstantiated claims that Russia compiled damaging information on him before the election.

The president-elect said Wednesday in New York he would leave all positions at the Trump Organization, though he won’t be divesting his ownership in the company or placing it in a blind trust.

He lashed out at some media organizations -- a frequent foil -- for publishing unverified material about alleged Russian intelligence gathering on him and Democrat Hillary Clinton while complimenting others for rejecting the documents.

During his first news conference since July, Trump showed his characteristic bluster, declaring that as president he will be "the greatest job producer God ever created" and promoting an inauguration that he declared will be an "elegant day" featuring "tremendous talent."

The event at Trump Tower was originally scheduled so he could detail how he will untangle his sprawling business empire, with more than 500 companies with $3.6 billion of assets and more than $600 million in debt and ties to more than 20 countries.

Russia Dominates

But it was dominated by questions about Trump’s relationship with Russia and news of the unverified material about Russian efforts to collect prejudicial information about both Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

For the first time, Trump conceded that the Russian government was behind the hacking of Democratic Party computers and the leaking of internal e-mails in an effort to damage Clinton’s presidential campaign, as U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded.

“I think it was Russia, but we also get hacked by other countries,” Trump said. He also said he was unconcerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have preferred him over Clinton and declined to answer questions about whether he would maintain sanctions imposed on Russia by President Barack Obama.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks: That is called an asset, not a liability,” Trump said. “Russia will have far greater respect for our country when I’m leading it."

Intelligence Agencies

Trump also extended the wary relationship he’s developed with U.S. intelligence agencies, suggesting they might have been behind the circulation of the unverified dossier after he previously expressed skepticism about their conclusion about Russian hacking.

“I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out,” he said. “I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that -- and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”

The dossier came to light after U.S. intelligence officials provided Trump and Obama with a summary of the material as an annex to a briefing on Russian government attempts to meddle in the U.S. presidential election by hacking Democratic Party computers and leaking internal e-mails. CNN, which first reported the briefing summary on Tuesday, said intelligence officials informed Trump, Obama and top congressional leaders about the existence of the memos, though not the details they contained.

Uncorroborated Material

The material had been circulating among some lawmakers, government officials and journalists for months, but hadn’t been disclosed because it couldn’t be corroborated.

The aim of the alleged Russian government intelligence-gathering was to leverage the information to shift U.S. policy toward Russia, including by potentially blackmailing Trump, according to the memos.

Trump said he has “no dealings with Russia,” including loans or business ties.

Questions about Trump’s personal and business ties to Russia have dogged the president-elect for months, as well as the ties of some of his campaign advisers. That has extended to the people he’s selected for his administration.

Trump spoke as several of his cabinet nominees were undergoing confirmation hearings before Senate committees, including Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp. and the president-elect’s nominee for secretary of state. U.S. relations with Russia were also the main topic of sharp questions put to Tillerson by senators of both parties. Tillerson said Russia has acted against U.S. interests and urged an “open and frank dialogue” so that “we know how to chart our own course.”

Business Ties

On his business ties, Trump said he is stepping down from all positions at the Trump Organization, though he won’t be divesting his ownership in the company.

“I have a no conflict of interest provision as president. I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don’t like the way that looks but I would be able to do it,” he said.

Attorney Sheri Dillon laid out in detail Trump’s plan after the president-elect spoke.

The businesses will be placed into a trust overseen by an independent ethics officer and managed by Trump’s sons, Eric and Don Jr., and Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who will make decisions without consulting the president, according to Dillon. The Trump Organization will terminate all pending partnerships, and won’t enter into new international business deals, such as licensing arrangements for new hotels, while Trump remains in the White House. Any new domestic deals will be reviewed by the ethics officer and other outside experts.

Existing Trump businesses, which include hotels and golf courses, will continue to operate and enter into new agreements that are typical in day-to-day business, such as booking weddings, parties and other events at their properties. Contracts with the potential for conflict will be reviewed by the ethics officer to ensure they are conducted at arms’ length.

At the news conference, Trump also announced he’ll nominate David Shulkin to be secretary of Veterans Affairs, heading an agency that has been beset by complaints of delayed medical care for military veterans. Shulkin is currently an undersecretary in the agency. He said he will name his pick for an open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court within two weeks of his Jan. 20 inauguration.

— With assistance by Toluse Olorunnipa, and Margaret Talev

(Updates with description of vetting for domestic business deals in 21st paragraph. A previous version of this story was corrected to reflect Trump Organization’s plans for new business deals.)
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