NEW YORK — Defiant and unyielding, President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday 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 it had released such material.
The incoming president, in his first news conference since late July, firmly pushed back on the media reports and chided news organizations for publishing the material late Tuesday night. His extraordinary defense, coming just nine days before Trump’s inauguration, dominated a highly anticipated press conference in which the future president also announced a new Cabinet member and his plans to disentangle himself from his sprawling global business empire.
“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. “It was gotten by opponents of ours.”
Asked about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump called it “an asset, not a liability” and an improvement over what he called America’s current “horrible relationship with Russia.”
“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 denounced the reports about Russia’s influence on Trump and the incoming president said the report 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.
Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the intelligence community’s findings last week, the official said.
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.
Pence said the decision by some media to publish the reports could “only be attributed to media bias” and an attempt to “demean” Trump.
Only days from his inauguration as the nation’s 45th president, Trump announced that he would nominate David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, elevating him from his current role as VA undersecretary.
Trump also announced 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 U.S., 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.”
The move appears 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.
–BY JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS