(CNN) — President-elect Donald Trump said for the first time he believes Russia was behind hacking ahead of the election.
“I think it was Russia,” Trump said during his first news conference as President-elect.
He added that Russia is not the only nation that hacks US targets and accused Democrats of not having sufficient cybersecurity programs.
The news conference opened with his spokesman, Sean Spicer, slamming a “political witch hunt” following reports that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Trump.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence also criticized the media before introducing Trump, who kept up his criticism of US intelligence.
“I do have to say and I must say that I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies,” Trump said. “But maybe the intelligence agencies which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they did that. A thing like that should never have been written, it should never have been had and it certainly should have never been released.”
He reiterated that he doesn’t plan to release his tax returns, saying they are under audit and don’t include relevant information
The news conference follows exclusive reporting by CNN on Tuesday that classified documents presented last week to President Barack Obama and Trump included the allegations about Russia. The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and drew in part from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible.
The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.
The news conference, delayed from December, was scheduled for Trump to outline how he will address questions about possible conflicts-of-interest related to his vast business empire. After taking a handful of questions, Trump turned the event over to Sheri Dilon, an attorney who was on hand to discuss Trump’s business interests.
She said Trump planned to put in place a structure that will “completely isolate him from the management of the company.”
“He further instructed that we build in protections that will assure the American people that the decisions that he makes and the actions he takes as President are for their benefit and not to support his financial interests,” she said.
Trump will place all his financial and business assets in a trust, Dillon said. The Trump organization meanwhile will not enter into any new deals abroad and all domestic deals will be subject to a heavy vetting process. The firm will also appoint a new ethics officer, she said. The President-elect has also terminated a number of deals set to close shortly, a step that had cost him millions of dollars, she said.
Dillon argued that the decision had been made not to put all Trump’s assets in a blind trust or to divest of all his assets because it would be impractical. She also said that Trump should not be forced to destroy the business that he had built up.
“President Trump can’t unknow he owns Trump tower,” Dillon said, explaining why a blind trust would not be a workable solution to addressing conflicts of interest issues while he is President.
More than a test
The news conference amounts to more than a test of his familiarity with policy questions and the duties and responsibilities that a President must shoulder. Coming hours after Obama’s farewell speech in Chicago, the news conference reinforces a sense of historic change pulsating through Washington. It also provides hints about the demeanor and attitude he will adopt as commander-in-chief and head of state, potentially shedding light on how he envisions his new role.
Trump will enter the White House with the most estranged relationship with journalists of any new President in recent memory after repeatedly branding the press “dishonest” and using it as a foil during his campaign and transition.
Still, the news conference represents Trump’s most extended appearance before the American people since the election and will go some way to showing whether he will adopt his trademark brazen, confrontational style as president.
Trump will enter the presidency from a position of political strength, given that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and so far have shown little inclination to probe his finances or ethical questions. With that in mind and having shown little desire to reach out to the majority of voters who did not chose him in November, Trump may feel under little pressure to modify his approach as he prepares to take office.
Susan Scutti, CNN
Samantha Beech, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN
Stephanie Elam, CNN