NEW YORK - President-elect Donald Trump denounced a purported Russian intelligence report on him as “fake news” Wednesday and asserted that he would be tough on Vladimir Putin despite reports that the Russian president used a computer hacking campaign to try to get him elected.
“It's all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen,” he said. “I read what was released, and I think it’s a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace."
Trump spoke to more than 250 journalists in the lobby of Trump Tower on Wednesday in the first full news conference since his election as president.
As reporters in the packed lobby vied for the right to ask questions, Trump was by turns assertive and defiant, often taking shots at his news coverage. Things turned downright testy when CNN tried to ask and failed to get Trump to answer a question. "Your organization is terrible," he told CNN's Jim Acosta. You are fake news."
In a wide-ranging 58-minute news conference, Trump also outlined his plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a new health insurance law "almost simultaneously." He reiterated his plan to have Mexico reimburse the United States for the cost of building a border wall. And his attorney outlined plans for Trump to remove himself from the day-to-day operations of his real estate empire, even while maintaining ownership and having family members run it.
The president-elect was introduced by incoming press secretary Sean Spicer, who denounced reports by CNN and BuzzFeed about Russian intelligence on Trump. Spicer called BuzzFeed “a left wing blog” that was hostile to Trump’s campaign and said the report was a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence went even further, alleging that there was a concerted effort by the media to “demean” and “delegitimize” the New York businessman.
But despite his denunciations, Trump started the his first news conference in six months by thanking many in the news media for not publishing unsubstantiated information.
He said he may owe his nomination to his frequent news conferences. “We stopped giving them because we were getting quite a bit of inaccurate news,” Trump said.
Putin and Nazi Germany
Trump spent little time on Russia during his opening statement, reserving his venom for an earlier tweet storm in which he likened the news leaks to the policies of Nazi Germany.
“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to "leak" into the public,” he tweeted Wednesday morning. “One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Trump did not back away from his Nazi analogy, calling the leaks of classified information as disgraceful.
"That's something that Nazi Germany would do, and did do," he said.
Trump continued to maintain that he would be tough on Putin while working together on world challenges.
“Do you really believe that Hillary would have been tougher on Putin than me? Does anyone really believe that? Give me a break," he said.
“If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability," Trump said. “Russia can help us with ISIS. This administration created ISIS, by leaving at the wrong time.”
Trump denied that there was any dirt for Russian intelligence agencies to have on him, saying he tells people while traveling overseas to be on their best behavior, even in the privacy of their hotel rooms. “Be careful, because you don’t want to see yourself on television. Because there are cameras everywhere.”
“I’m also very much of a germophobe, by the way," Trump said. "Believe me.”
The president also discussed plans involving industrial policy, drug prices and defense contracts. He vowed to be "the greatest jobs president that God ever created."
Trump also again refused to release his tax returns, saying "as you know, they're under audit."
Reporters are the only ones interested in the tax returns, Trump added, and he did not think his refusal had any effect on the election.
"I won," Trump said as supporters in the lobby clapped and cheered. "I became president."
Trump and aides also announced he will put his business interests in a "trust," but not a blind one — he will turn operations over to his sons and current executives, with yet-to-be-named ethics compliance officers to monitor the arrangement.
Ethics attorneys had called on Trump to create a totally blind trust in which he would sell assets and have an independent executor manage the assets.
Affordable Care Act
Trump said he wants to see Obamacare "implode" this year because Democrats own the "catastrophic" plan as constituted. At that point, he said, the Republicans will put their own (still undefined) plan in place.
"Obamacare is the Democrats' problem," he said. "We are going to take the problem off the shelves for them."
Trump said Cabinet nominees Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions have been "brilliant" in Senate hearings, and claimed he has "one of the great Cabinets ever put together."
Trump said he has met with Supreme Court candidates — from a "list of 20" — and will announced a nominee "within two weeks" of his Jan. 20 inauguration.
Trump stuck to his claim that Mexico will reimburse the United States for a wall along their border, either by a "tax" or a "payment," though the latter is less likely. He added: "it's not a fence — it's a wall."
Mexico has vowed not to pay for such a wall.
The press conference was in the same marbled and gold-plated lobby on Fifth Avenue where Trump announced his campaign 19 months ago. A blue curtain hung behind Trump, obscuring the elevators that have transported scores of office-seekers to their meetings with the president-elect. Trump was flanked on his left by members of his family and top aides, with enough supporters in the lobby to provide a cheering section for some of Trump's more colorful remarks.
Trump concluded by pointing to a table stacked with legal documents related to his many partnerships, saying he would turn the running of his businesses over to his sons and hope they do a good job.
"Otherwise if they do a bad job, I'll say, they're fired," he said.