US President-elect Donald Trump has reacted furiously to allegations that Russia has compromising material on him, while finally admitting that he believes Russia did hack the Democrats during the election.
Mr Trump condemned US intelligence agencies for allowing “fake news” to “leak” into the public, asking: “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
At his first news conference since the election, Mr Trump also said it would be an “asset, not a liability” if he gets along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but admitted it was not a given that the pair would be allies.
“If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia,” Mr 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,” he added, in the wake of explosive allegations about his dealings with Russia and purported intelligence gathered by Moscow about him.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I also think we’ve been hacked by other countries, other people,” he said.
Mr Trump also said:
— He would start talks with Mexico on a new border wall immediately after taking office and that Mexico will reimburse” the US for the wall.
— He will nominate a new Supreme Court justice within two weeks of his inauguration
— Obamacare will be repealed and replaced “essentially simultaneously” once the new health secretary is approved.
— That the pharmaceutical industry was “getting away with murder”, saying he would create new procedures for bidding on drugs and save “billions of dollars”
— He was taking credit for auto makers Ford and Fiat-Chrysler deciding to make investments in the US, and in the case for Ford, cancelling a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico.
DEALING WITH CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Nine days from his inauguration as the nation’s 45th president, Mr Trump also used the news conference to detail how he planned to avoid conflicts of interest related to his sprawling global business empire.
He said his business assets would be put in a trust and he would hand control of his company to his two adult sons and a longtime business executive to allay concerns about conflicts of interest.
He also said that he would hand over all profits when foreign dignitaries stay in Trump Hotels to the US treasury.
A lawyer who worked with the Trump Organisation on the plan says Mr Trump is planning to make the change by Inauguration Day, relinquish control over the Trump Organization and isolate himself from the business.
The lawyer says the company will not do any foreign deals but can pursue domestic ones, and says that the Trump Organisation will appoint an ethics adviser to its management team who must approve deals that could raise concerns about conflicts.
JOHN MCCAIN SAYS ‘IT WAS ME’
It came as Republican senator John McCain handed over an explosive dossier on Mr Trump’s alleged links to Russia to the FBI in December.
The Arizona senator issued a public statement amid mounting questions of his exact role in the affair — and how a document riddled with errors and unverifiable claims came to be published.
“Late last year, I received sensitive information that has since been made public,” he said.
“Upon examination of the contents, and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the Director of the FBI.media_camera
“That has been the extent of my contact with the FBI or any other government agency regarding this issue.”
Sen. McCain, who was branded as “not a war hero because he was captured” by Mr Trump, sent an emissary to meet the former MI6 agent to collect a copy of the dossier.
RUSSIA-FRIENDLY REX TILLERSON CALLS COUNTRY ‘A DANGER’
Meanwhie, Mr Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, adopted a tough new line on Russia, calling it a “danger” to the United States and saying he would have recommended a muscular response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. Both assertions appeared to contradict the views of the president-elect, who has repeatedly spoken of improving US-Russian ties.
Mr Tillerson, a friend of the Kremlin and foe of sanctions in his corporate life, said last week’s intelligence report that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election was troubling and that it was a “fair assumption” Russian President Vladimir Putin would have personally ordered the intervention.media_camera
He wouldn’t call Putin a “war criminal” for Russian military actions in Syria, but said he’d consider such a designation if he saw evidence.
Faced with pointed questions from Democratic and Republican senators about his ties with Russia and relationship with Mr Putin, who awarded him the Order of Friendship in 2014, Mr Tillerson sought to allay fears that either he or Mr Trump would go easy on Moscow. But in a surprising revelation, he conceded that he hadn’t yet discussed details with Mr Trump about his ideas for a Russia policy.
On Russia’s Crimea actions, he said: “That was a taking of territory that was not theirs.”
He said he had been “caught by surprise” by the step, while criticising the Obama administration’s response through sanctions on Russia, which ended up costing Exxon hundreds of millions of dollars.media_camera
Going beyond Mr Obama’s approach, however, Mr Tillerson said he would have responded to Russia’s actions against Ukraine by urging Kiev to send all available military units to its Russian border. He would have recommended US and allied support to Ukraine, through defensive weapons and air surveillance, to send a message to Moscow.
“That is the type of response that Russia expects,” he said in a response to questions from Sen. Marco Rubio, who offered Mr Tillerson perhaps the toughest Republican questioning.
“If Russia acts with force ... they require a proportional show of force to indicate to Russia that there will be no more taking of territory.”
Economic sanctions, which Mr Tillerson had questioned as chief of Exxon, “are a powerful tool and they are an important tool in terms of deterring additional action,” the oil man said. However, he said they could also send a “weak” message unless carefully crafted and applied on an international basis. As chief of Exxon, Mr Tillerson opposed penalties on Russia championed by both Democratic and Republican politicians.
Unlike Mr Trump, who has played down the intelligence community’s allegations of Russian malfeasance in the presidential campaign, Mr Tillerson said he had no reason to doubt those conclusions.
Originally published as Trump: ‘I think it was Russia’