U.S. President-elect Donald Trump held his first press conference in nearly six months on Wednesday, lambasting the circulation of unverified allegations about his dealings with Russia while continuing to advocate for a warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During the press conference, Trump did not specifically address questions regarding whether members of his staff were in contact with Russian officials during the campaign. When NBC News repeated that question to Trump afterwards as the president-elect approached the elevator to exit the room, he answered "No."
Trump, whose public comments in the wake of the election have been limited to a handful of media interviews and daily Twitter missives, also turned the podium over to an attorney who outlined his plans to shift the management of his company to his sons. But he will not create a blind trust or fully divest of his assets.
Trump's remarks come just one day after CNN and other outlets, including NBC News, reported that briefing materials prepared for President-elect Trump included unverified reports that Russia has compromising information on him. Hours later, Buzzfeed published an unverified dossier claiming to detail Russia's efforts to cultivate Trump -- including by direct interactions with Trump surrogates -- and to collect compromising information about him. The document has not been authenticated by Buzzfeed, NBC News or any other media outlet. Trump's team and a Russian spokesperson have vehemently denied the accusations.
Trump first acknowledged that he believes the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other political groups were conducted by Russians, but he quickly pivoted to mentioning other nations that engage in cyberattacks.
"As far as hacking, I think it's Russia. But we also get hacked by other countries and other people and I can say that," he said.
And later in the press conference, he appeared to walk back his statement about Russian responsibility for the hacks, saying "it could be others."
He continued to repeat the damaging information about Hillary Clinton's campaign exposed by the hacks. "Hacking's bad and it shouldn't be done. But look at the things that were hacked. Look at what was learned from that hack," he said.
While he declined to weigh in directly on intelligence assessments that indicate that Putin himself ordered operations to aid Trump's victory, Trump reiterated his favorable language about Putin during the campaign, saying "If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability."
"Russia can help us fight ISIS, which, by the way, is, number one, tricky," he said. "I mean if you look, this administration created ISIS by leaving at the wrong time. The void was created, ISIS was formed."
He suggested that if Putin was responsible for the hacking, "he shouldn't have done it. I don't believe he'll be doing it more, now."
Trump's team formally announced at the press conference that he is relinquishing his management of the Trump Organization to his sons and that an ethics adviser will be appointed to its management team to review all new transactions.
But he also will not divest or create a completely blind trust -- the solutions overwhelmingly endorsed by ethics experts to eliminate the risk that the president's assets could become ripe for corruption and influence-peddling.
"I’ll come back and say, oh, you did a good job. Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I’ll say, “You’re fired”," Trump said as he referred to his sons taking control of his businesses.
And after promising last month that there would be "no new deals," Trump's team said Wednesday that the Trump Organization would not engage in any new foreign transactions but new deals within the United States would be approved with the sign-off of the new ethics adviser, who is yet to be named.
An attorney who briefed reporters before the press conference also said that, although his team maintains that payments made to his hotel properties do not violate the emoluments cause, Trump will "voluntarily" donate to the United States Treasury all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels.
Ethics experts are already deriding the arrangement as untenable.
"This does not address the emoluments clause concerns, this does not address the conflict concerns. This is using the language of ethics without addressing the actual ethics concerns," said Kathleen Clark, an ethics specialist at University of Washington law school.
Trump said that he received an offer "over the weekend" to conduct a $2 billion deal in Dubai but that he turned it down.
"I don't want to take advantage of something," he said, adding that as president he is not subject to the conflict of interest laws that apply to most federal employees.
"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 that if I wanted to," he said.
Trump pledged to gut Obamacare and replace it with new legislation "essentially simultaneously," a break with congressional Republicans who have cautioned that complex new health care legislation will take time to negotiate and complete.
"It will be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously," Trump said. "It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably the same day, could be the same hour."
Trump announced that he has selected his pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin. Shuklkin currently serves as an undersecretary at the department.
"We looked long and hard," Trump said. We interviewed at least 100 people, some good, some not so good," he said. "We think that this selection will be something that - with time - will straighten it out."
Source: NBC News