President-elect Donald Trump gave his first press conference since July at Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday, discussing topics ranging from Russian hacking to picking a Supreme Court nominee.
Trump responded to certain media outlet news accounts that briefing materials prepared for him last week included reports that Russia has compromising information on him. The reports include “specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians,” according to BuzzFeed News.
BuzzFeed published a 35-page document of the unverified allegations on Tuesday night. CNN revealed prior that Trump and President Obama had been given a two-page synopsis of the document last week, but the news organization did not publish its contents.
Trump continued to deny ties with Russia throughout the press conference and called the reports “fake news.”
“I want to thank a lot of the news organizations … they came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily [BuzzFeed and CNN],” Trump said, according to a New York Times full transcript of the press conference.
Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer also alluded to the allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives during the campaign at the start of the press conference, stating that, “The fact that BuzzFeed and CNN made the decision to run with this unsubstantiated claim is a sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.”
CNN defended its reporting in a statement that read, “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.” BuzzFeed News editor Ben Smith defended his organization’s decision to publish the 35-page dossier in an email to staff, writing, “Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and share what we have with our readers … As we noted in our story, there is serious reason to doubt the allegations.”
And as for reports of Russian hacking during his campaign, Trump acknowledged that he believes Russia conducted the hacking of the Democratic National Committee last year. However, he also noted that other countries, including China, engage in hacking against the U.S. as well.
Trump did not answer questions about whether members of his staff were in contact with Russian officials during the campaign, but he hinted that he’s not opposed to forming a relationship with the Russian leader during his presidency.
“If Putin likes [me], I consider that an asset, not a liability,” Trump said.
Conflicts of interest
During the press conference, Trump’s attorney, Sheri Dillon, outlined a plan that will deal with Trump’s conflicts of interest between his business ventures and his role as commander-in-chief.
Trump will turn management of the Trump Organization over to his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, as well as Allen Weisselberg, the organization’s chief financial officer. Trump and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, will “have no further involvement with or management authority whatsoever with the Trump Organization,” Dillon said.
Trump Organization will also not engage in any new foreign transactions while Trump is in office, and new business deals made within the U.S. will have to be approved by an appointed ethics adviser. However, Trump will not divest — otherwise known as selling his assets — from his company, Dillon noted.
Walter Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics, has disagreed with the plan, which he said “doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting, and that every president in the last four decades have met,” according to an article from The Hill.
Shaub said the only way for Trump to avoid conflicts of interest is to sell his assets and place them in a blind trust, which would entail neither him nor his family members having control.
On Obamacare, Trump stated during the press conference that his solution is to gut the heath care plan and “repeal and replace it.” The new plan is slated to be submitted as soon as the Senate approves his nominee, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as the secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, Trump said Wednesday.
“It will be essentially simultaneously,” he said. “The same day or the same week … could be the same hour.” He didn’t offer further specific details.
Supreme Court Nomination
Trump also discussed his timeline for nominating a Supreme Court judge. He stated that “within about two weeks” of Jan. 20, he will pick a nominee.
“I have a list of 20,” he said. “I’ve gone through them. We’ve met with numerous candidates. They’re outstanding in every case.” The New York Times reported Wednesday that the list has narrowed to about a half-dozen names.
The nominee would fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last February.
Trump said Wednesday the candidates come “largely recommended and highly recommended” from the Federalist Society, a conservative nonprofit legal organization. Democrats are poised to fight any nomination they consider to be too far outside the mainstream, saying Republicans “effectively stole a Supreme Court seat from President Obama by refusing for almost a year to consider his nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland, a respected appeals court judge,” according to The Times.
Trump said during the conference that he wants to start building the wall along the Mexico and U.S. border, adding that Mexico will reimburse the U.S. for the costs, “Whether it’s a tax or whether it’s a payment.”
“We’re going to build a wall. I could wait about a year and a half until we finish our negotiations with Mexico,” he said, but “I don’t feel like waiting a year and a half.”
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said he has no intentions of paying for the wall.
Veteran Affairs Nominee
Trump also announced his intention to nominate David Shulkin, the undersecretary for health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Shulkin, nominated for his current position by Obama, will be the first Veteran Affairs secretary who has not served in the military.
“We are both eager to begin reforming the areas in our Veterans Affairs system that need critical attention, and do it in a swift, thoughtful and responsible way,” Shulkin said in a statement.