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The incoming president, in his first news conference since late July, slammed US intelligence agencies for “disgraceful” leaking of what he called “fake news”, and angrily attacked news organisations for publishing the material late Tuesday night.
In the highly anticipated press conference, just nine days before his inauguration in Washington, Trump’s also detailed his plans to separate himself from his business interests, and addressed the future of the planned wall at the border with Mexico and Obamacare.
“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.
‘I think it was Russia’
Trump accepted that Russia was likely behind the hacking during the US presidential election in clearer terms, but nevertheless boasted he would have better relations with President Vladimir Putin compared to his predecessors at the White House.”
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” Trump said, later adding: “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.”
Intelligence officials informed Trump last week about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had obtained compromising personal and financial information about him. President Barack Obama was also briefed on the findings.
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 unverified 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.
Asked about contacts between his camp and Russian officials in the past, Trump failed to answer the question.
Sons to manage Trump business
Trump also used the press conference to announce his plans for the future of the Trump Organization, bringing to the podium attorney Sheri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, who worked with the Trump Organization on the arrangement.
Dillon said the Trump Organization would continue to pursue deals in the US, though Trump will relinquish control of the company to his sons and an executive, put his business assets in a trust and take other steps to isolate himself from his business.
She said Trump “should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” and presented arguments for why he would not form a blind trust for his assets.
The move appeared to contradict a previous pledge by the president-elect. In a tweet last month, Trump vowed to do “no new deals” while in office.
The lawyer who advised Trump also said that the Trump Organization will appoint an ethics adviser to its management team who must approve deals that could raise concerns about conflicts. Dillon said Trump would voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels to the US Treasury.
Mexico will ‘reimburse’ border wall
Turning to his plans to build a border wall along the southern border, Trump said he would immediately begin negotiations with Mexico on funding his promised wall after he takes office, which would initially be paid by US taxpayers.
“I could wait about a year and a half until we finish our negotiations with Mexico, which will start immediately after we get to office. But I don’t want to wait. Mike Pence is leading an effort to get final approvals through various agencies and through Congress for the wall to begin. I don’t feel like waiting a year or year and a half. We’re going to start building,” he said.
“Mexico, in some form, and there many different forms, will reimburse us, and they will reimburse us. And they will reimburse us for the cost of the wall,” said Trump.
Mexico Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray on Tuesday insisted that there is “no way” that his country will pay for a massive US border wall as Trump has repeatedly stated.
“The United States has the right to protect its borders. What is inadmissible, and which would deeply violate the dignity of all Mexicans, is to expect Mexico to pay for infrastructure of the United States,” he said in a radio interview.
“There is no way that this will happen,” Videgaray said.
Only days from his inauguration as the nation’s 45th president, Trump promised that a replacement for Obamacare would be offered “essentially simultaneously” with the repeal of the outgoing president’s signature health law.
The measure 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.
“Obamacare is the Democrats’ problem. We are going to take the problem off the shelves for them. We’re doing them a tremendous service by doing it. We could sit back and let them hang with it,” Trump boasted in usual fashion, saying the heath reform was ready to “implode”.
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.”