In Trump's news conference, hints of what's to come
In a chaotic news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan just 10 days before he is to be sworn in as the nation's 45th president, Trump sidestepped repeated questions about whether he or anyone in his presidential campaign had had contact with Russia during the campaign.
"As far as hacking, I think it was Russia," Trump said, his first comments accepting the conclusions of U.S. intelligence officials that Moscow interfered in the election to help him win.
The news conference displayed the showmanship, combativeness and sensitivity to criticism that Trump exhibited throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. In his maligning of the nation's intelligence agencies, journalists and Hillary Clinton, the president-elect indicated that he will conduct himself the same way in the White House.
Some moments bordered on bizarre. Trump spoke knowledgeably of what he said were cameras in hotel rooms in Moscow and other foreign capitals for recording illicit activity. He called himself a "germaphobe." At one point he got into an angry verbal confrontation with a correspondent for CNN, among those to report first on the dossier of allegations.
Trump expressed little outrage at a campaign by President Vladimir Putin of Russia to meddle in American democracy, reserving his sharpest condemnations for intelligence officials whom the president-elect said had failed to keep secret the accusations that could be damaging to him, and the news media for reporting on what he branded "fake news" about them.
"If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia," Trump said when asked whether he believed Putin had directed the hacking effort to help him win the presidency.
"He shouldn't be doing it," Trump said later of the Russian president. "He won't be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I'm leading than when other people have led it."
The hourlong news conference touched not only on reports of espionage and blackmail, but on potential conflicts of interest with Trump's vast business empire and questions about domestic policy.
He did not address whether the sanctions President Barack Obama has imposed on Moscow for the cyberattacks should stay in place or be strengthened as some Republicans have urged, especially as the scope of the hacking has become clearer.
And he vigorously denied the swirl of accusations about his behavior, calling it "phony stuff" that "never happened."
"I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out," Trump said. "That's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do."
In his first formal news conference in nearly six months, Trump offered glimpses of his plans for his first days in office, including pledging to choose a Supreme Court nominee within two weeks of Inauguration Day to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia and to invite journalists to watch a series of "signings" at the White House, an apparent allusion to the several executive orders he has promised to sign to roll back major pieces of Obama's agenda.
The marble-lined lobby of Trump Tower was crowded with more than 250 journalists, all jostling for seats in front of Trump's dais and backdrop of 10 American flags. On the sidelines stood senior members of his incoming White House team including Stephen K. Bannon, who will serve as his chief counselor; Kellyanne Conway, who will be a senior adviser; and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who will hold the same title. The lobby at times echoed with applause as Trump defended himself against what he called unfair accusations and attacked the news media for reporting on unsubstantiated claims.
Reporters shouted out questions as Trump called on them in turn, skipping over some whom he derided as "fake news" as they pressed him for more answers on his ties to Russia.
Trump used the gathering to outline his plans to avoid conflicts of interest when he takes office, having aides pile stacks of manila envelopes at a table that he said reflected a piece of the vast holdings he would turn over to his eldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr., to manage along with a trustee. In the middle of the question-and-answer session, he introduced a legal adviser, Sheri A. Dillon, to describe the arrangement, including why Trump will not divest completely and place his assets in a blind trust.
He said the steps, which include a commitment to have a hand-picked ethics adviser vet any proposed domestic deals and refrain from undertaking new foreign ones, were entirely voluntary and born of a desire to avoid the appearance that he could be profiting from his office. But it is not clear whether the plans would achieve that stated goal, and Trump again refused to release his tax returns.
"The only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, OK?" he said. "They're the only who ask."
Asked whether the public also cared about his financial details, Trump added: "No, I don't think so. I won."
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