NEW YORK: US President-Elect Donald Trump yesterday berated the media and US intelligence agencies as he denied explosive allegations about his ties with Russia – while admitting for the first time that Moscow had likely meddled in the US election. Just over a week before he takes office, Trump confirmed he had ceded “complete” managing control of his global property empire to his two sons, seeking to dispel fears about possible conflict of interests.
Trump also said he rejected a $2 billion deal in Dubai last weekend, demonstrating he was putting his business behind as he prepares to move into the White House. “Over the weekend, I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer from the Middle East,” he told the press conference. “I didn’t have to turn it down,” he said. “But I have a no-conflict-of-interest provision as president.”
But the focus of the hour-long press conference – his first in six months was firmly on the unsubstantiated claims that his aides colluded with the Kremlin to win the US election, and that Russia has compromising sexual material on Trump. The 70-year-old billionaire angrily accused CNN of being “fake news” and called BuzzFeed – which published a dossier with the allegedly incriminating material drawn up by a former British intelligence agent hired to do “opposition research” on Trump – a “failing pile of garbage”.
“It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen,” he said, referring to allegations of lurid behavior in a Moscow hotel room. “It was a group of opponents that got together, sick people, and they put that crap together,” Trump said. “I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out,” Trump said. It “was released by maybe the intelligence agencies, who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be a tremendous blot on their record,” Trump said, later saying it was “disgraceful”. On Twitter, he earlier decried a political “witch hunt” against him and asked: “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Trump dodged specific questions about whether his campaign had contacts with Russian intelligence, instead tearing into reporters whose outlets reported the suggestions of compromising material. “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news,” he said to a CNN reporter, igniting a fresh raft of questions about his respect for constitutional guarantees about the free press. Trump warned BuzzFeed they would “suffer the consequences”.
Trump began the press conference muted and disciplined, but became increasingly agitated as questions piled up. “I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia,” Trump said. The president-elect finally admitted for the first time that he believes Moscow likely meddled in the US election. US intelligence agencies say Russia’s intent was to help Trump win the White House.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I also think we’ve been hacked by other countries, other people,” he said. Trump aides bristle at the suggestion that Russia weighed in behind Trump, seeing it as an effort to delegitimize his election victory. Trump again refused to back away from his openness towards Russian President Vladimir Putin. “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia,” Trump said. “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.”
Without corroborating its contents, BuzzFeed published a 35-page dossier of memos on which the synopsis reportedly presented to Trump is based. The memos, which had been circulating in Washington for months, describe sex videos involving prostitutes filmed during a 2013 visit by Trump to a luxury Moscow hotel, supposedly as a potential means for blackmail.
They also suggest Russian officials proposed lucrative deals in order to win influence over the real estate magnate. “The Kremlin does not have compromising information on Trump,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling journalists. The Kremlin spokesman called the dossier a “total fake” and “an obvious attempt to harm our bilateral relations.”
Trump refused to comment on his classified briefing but said he had seen the information “outside of that meeting”. Without delineating the specific allegations in the memos, Trump denied engaging in any questionable behavior during visits to Russia. “In those rooms, you have cameras in the strangest places – cameras that are so small, with modern technology. You can’t see them and you won’t know,” he said. “You’d better be careful or you’ll be watching yourself on nightly television.”
Trump also vowed to forge ahead with plans for a wall on the southern US border after taking office, and said Mexico would reimburse the United States for the cost. “I could wait about a year and a half until we finish our negotiations with Mexico, which we’ll start immediately after we get to office, but I don’t want to wait,” Trump told the news conference. “We’re going to start building,” he said. “Mexico in some form – and there are many different forms – will reimburse us. That will happen. Whether it’s a tax or whether it’s a payment.” – Agencies