Combative Trump concedes Russia’s role in election hacking
January 11, 2017 2:23 PM
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his first official news conference since the November election on Wednesday at Trump Tower in New York City.
Evan Vucci/Associated Press
President-elect Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla. on Dec. 28.
By Julie Pace / Associated Press
NEW YORK — In what was seen as a combative and freewheeling news conference, President-elect Donald Trump said for the first time Wednesday that he accepts Russia was behind the election year hacking of Democrats that roiled the White House race. Looking ahead, he urged Congress to move quickly to replace President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and insisted anew that Mexico will pay the cost of a border wall.
In an eventful day for Mr. Trump, the president-elect also said he will continue to profit from his global business empire after he enters the White House this month — a precedent-breaking decision that the director of the Office of Government Ethics swiftly condemned as unpatriotic. Mr. Trump also moved to complete his Cabinet picks, announcing his intention to nominate David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, elevating him from his current role as VA undersecretary.
The hourlong spectacle in the marbled lobby of Mr. Trump’s Manhattan skyscraper was his first news conference since winning the election in early November, and the famously unconventional politician was viewed as demonstrating that he had not been changed by the weight of his victory.
He defiantly denied reports that Russia had collected compromising personal and financial information about him, lambasting the media for peddling “fake news” and shouting down a journalist from CNN, which reported on the matter. His family and advisers clapped and cheered him on throughout.
Mr. Trump’s transition has been shadowed by U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia not only meddled in the election, but did so to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. After spending weeks challenging that idea, Mr. Trump finally accepted at least part of the intelligence conclusions.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” Mr. Trump said, quickly adding that “other countries and other people” also hack U.S. interests. Still, he kept needling the intelligence agencies his latest round of insults thrown at them, saying it would be a “tremendous blot” on their record if officials were leaking information from his classified briefings.
One U.S. official told the Associated Press on Tuesday night that intelligence people had informed Mr. Trump last week about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him. Some media outlets reported on the document, which contains unproven information alleging close coordination between Mr. Trump’s inner circle and Russians, as well as unverified claims about unusual sexual activities by Mr. Trump. The AP has not authenticated any of the claims.
Wednesday’s news conference was initially billed as a chance for Mr. Trump to answer questions about his plans for distancing himself from his sprawling, family-owned real estate and licensing business. Lawyer Sheri Dillon stepped to the lectern midway through the event to announce that the president-elect was relinquishing control of the Trump Organization to his adult sons and an executive, as well as putting his business assets in a trust. While new international business deals will be banned, the company will be allowed to start new projects in the U.S.
The move appears to contradict a previous pledge by the president-elect. In a tweet last month, Mr. Trump said that “no new deals” would be done while he was in office.
With dramatic flair, Mr. Trump aides piled stacks of manila folders on a table next to the lectern — in front of 10 American flags — before the news conference began. Mr. Trump said the folders contained documents he had signed formalizing the new business arrangements, though journalists were not able to view and independently verify the materials.
“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,” Mr. Trump said of Dubai-based billionaire Hussain Sajwani, who runs the development company DAMAC Properties. “And I turned it down. I didn’t have to turn it down. ... But I don’t want to take advantage of something.”
U.S. Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub later took the rare step of commenting publicly about a presidential ethics decision, warning that Mr. Trump’s solution to a potential cascade of conflicts spurred by his global business holdings breaks 40 years of precedent by presidents from both parties.
Elsewhere, Trump daughter Ivanka said in a post on her Facebook page Wednesday that she planned to step aside from her executive roles at the Trump Organization and her lifestyle brand, but says she is confident both businesses will continue to “thrive.”
Some 250 journalists crammed into the Trump Tower lobby for the news conference, which was not only Mr. Trump’s first since the election, but his first since July. Journalists shouted for his attention. At times, he skipped past questions he appeared to not want to answer, including an inquiry about whether he would keep in place sanctions Mr. Obama slapped on Russia in retaliation for the election-related hacking.
Until Wednesday, Mr. Trump had spent most of his two months as president-elect doling out policy pronouncements, attacks on critics and boasts about his victory in 140-character increments on Twitter. His preferred mode of communication has left some of his positions vague - an approach that is often by Mr. Trump’s design.
The president-elect set some concrete policy markers Wednesday, though specifics continued to be in short supply on some of his major campaign promises.
He promised that a replacement for Mr. Obama’s sweeping health care overhaul would be offered “essentially simultaneously” with a congressional vote to repeal the measure. The complexity of the policy changes makes quick passage of a new health care law virtually impossible, and Mr. Trump is yet to detail what he wants included. He said his team would send a plan to Congress after Rep. Tom Price, his pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, is confirmed.
His comments came as the Republican-led Senate was poised to take a step forward on dismantling Mr. Obama’s health care law despite anxiety among some GOP senators that they still haven't come up with an alternative.
Turning to his plans to build a wall along the nation’s southern border, Mr. Trump vowed that Mexico would “reimburse” the cost of the project through an unspecified tax or payment. He said that while his administration would begin negotiating with Mexico after his Jan. 20 inauguration, he did not want to delay the work until an agreement was reached, raising the prospect that U.S. taxpayers could ultimately bear the costs.
“I want to get the wall started,” he said. “Mexico will pay for the wall, but it will be reimbursed.”
Following Mr. Trump’s remarks, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said his country “of course will not pay” for a border wall.
Mr. Trump also moved to complete his Cabinet picks, announcing his intention to nominate David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, elevating him from his current role as VA undersecretary. He suggested that Shulkin may work with major private hospitals to help address issues that have plagued veterans’ health care.
Mr. Trump said he would move quickly to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. He said he had been interviewing candidates and seeking input from conservative groups and planned to name someone about two weeks after the inauguration.
The president-elect also said that he wants to bring overseas pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs to the United States, although he plans to negotiate on the prices the government pays for medication.
In other news, an informal adviser to Ms. Trump is expected to join the White House. Goldman Sachs partner Dina Powell will be leaving the bank to take a role in the Trump administration, said a source close to the decision who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The source said Ms. Powell is expected to focus economic issues and policies relating to women and will work with Ms. Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who will serve as a senior adviser.