(CN) – Opening his first news conference in six months, President-elect Donald Trump denied allegations that Russian operatives have compromising personal and financial information about him, condemning the publication of such claims as “outrageous and irresponsible.”
He also addressed speculation that the unsubstantiated reports were leaked to the media by U.S. intelligence agencies, saying it would be a “tremendous blot on their record if they did that.”
“I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out,” Trump said, referring to an intelligence briefing he received last week. “I saw the information. I read the information outside of that meeting.”
Later, White House spokesman Josh Earnest responded by saying it’s “deeply misguided for anybody, at any level, to question the integrity and motives of the patriots” who supply the nation’s intelligence.
But if anything, Trump was even angrier with those news outlets that went into detail about what the leaked documents said. Co-opting an allegation that dogged the presidential campaign, he said the reports publicized about him the night before are “all fake news.”
“It’s lies,” Trump said. “It didn’t happen. It was gotten hold of by opponents of ours who decided to put that crap out.”
“That it got out at all, and got committed to paper is an absolute disgrace,” he added.
Trump also conceded for the first time that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Convention last year.
“I think it is Russia,” Trump said, though he quickly added that we are “hacked by a lot of others.”
Trump also said the Democratic National Committee was “wide open” to hacking and that, when then-GOP chairman Reince Priebus heard about the hacking, the Republicans took additional steps to protect their own servers.
Trump also said that he has told associates for years that they should be careful whenever they are overseas, specifically warning them that, “given the state of technology,” cameras “could be anywhere.”
“And not just in Russia, but anywhere,” he said.
Trump said he was in Russia several years ago for a Miss Universe contest that he presented, but said he long ago adopted a personal policy of caution that he’s shared with others.
“I tell people, you better be careful or you’re going to wind up watching yourself on nightly television,” he said.
In an aside, Trump made an oblique reference to some of the seamier aspects of the alleged compromising information. “I’m also very much a germaphobe,” the president-elect said.
His remarks came following an introduction by his spokesman, Sean Spicer, who specifically attacked BuzzFeed for publishing the report, calling its actions the product of “a political witch hunt” and the decision of other media outlets to report the story “a sad and pathetic effort to get clicks” on their websites.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence also blasted the reports, which he said “can only be attributed to media bias and an attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration.”
Trump used the press conference as well to address concerns about his interest conflicts. Announcing that he will put all his business assets in a trust, Trump said he will hand control of his company to his two adult sons and a longtime business executive, but also said he won’t divest himself of his empire.
“I could run the country and the Trump Organization at the same time, but I don’t like the way that would look,” he said.
Trump turned the news conference over to Sheri Dilon, an attorney, to explain his plans regarding his business interests.
Dilon said the steps Trump has decided to take will “completely isolate him from the management of the company.”
“He further instructed that we build protections that will assure the American people that the decisions he makes and the actions he takes as president are for their benefit and not to support his financial interests,” she said.
The plan also includes a promise that the Trump Organization will refrain from making any new deals with foreign partners, and that any new domestic transactions the organization wants to carry out will be reviewed by an ethics adviser.
Dilon did not say how that adviser will be chosen or what that individual’s review will entail.
She also said Trump will donate all profits his hotels make from foreign government payments to the U.S. Treasury.
Dilon said Trump has terminated a number of deals that were to close in the coming weeks. She described this as a decision that cost him millions of dollars.
She went on to say that it would be impractical, if not impossible for Trump to try to sell all of his many business assets.
“President Trump can’t unknow that he owns Trump tower,” she said.
But she added, “he wants to do more than what the Constitution requires.”
Trump then returned to the podium and said he intends to pursue a near simultaneous repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
“It will be [done] essentially simultaneously,” he said.
He also restated his intention to build a wall on the southern border of the United States and make Mexico pay for, and defended his decision to ask Congress to fund it initially.
“We’re going to build a wall,” he said, explaining the congressional funding was necessary to avoid a delay in getting it up.
“Mexico, in some form … will reimburse us for this,” he assured reporters.
Trump also announced that he plans to announce his decision on a Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia within two weeks of his inauguration on Jan. 20.
Scalia’s death in early 2016 created a vacancy that was kept open as Senate Republicans blocked a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee.
Trump said he had received recommendations for nominees from the conservative and libertarian Federalist Society and Jim DeMint, a former Republican senator from South Carolina who now leads the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
But it was the allegedly leaked intelligence dossier that dominated the press conference. While Spicer directed his fire at Buzzfeed and another unnamed news organization, Trump took no time at all to call out CNN and subject it to his most withering criticism regarding the story.
During the question and answer session with reporters, a CNN ‘s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta attempted to ask Trump a question, and when he was ignored, called out, “You’re trashing my news organization, shouldn’t you at least give me the opportunity to ask a question?”
“Don’t interrupt,” Trump said.
When Acosta persisted, the president-elect said, no, he wasn’t going to allow him to ask a question or to reply to his comments.
“Your organization is terrible,” Trump said.
“You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir?”
“Don’t be rude,” Trump said.
“I’m not going to give you a question,” the president-elect continued. “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”
CNN issued a statement immediately after the press conference that said its decision to publish “carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than Buzzfeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos.”
“The Trump team knows this. They are using Buzzfeed’s decision to deflect from CNN’s reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations,” the statement continued. “We are fully confident in our reporting. It represents the core of what the First Amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government; in this case, briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump last week.
“We made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35-page document because we have not corroborated the report’s allegations. Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate.”