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Trump Dismisses Russian Connection Allegations As 'Fake News'

By Brian Naylor | NPR
Friday, January 13, 2017

This has been updated at 10:00 pm ET with Clapper statement

President-elect Donald Trump denounced as "fake news" Wednesday reports that Russia had compromising information about him before the election.

He also acknowledged for the first time that Russia was behind the hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee, although he seemed to couch it later in the news conference by saying it "could have been others."

In his first news conference since last summer, the president-elect additionally said he would be handing over control of his businesses to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric; refused once again to release his income tax returns; and said his administration would reveal its plan to replace the Affordable Care Act as soon as his nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is confirmed by the Senate.

Trump said the unverified and unsubstantiated reports about the Russian intelligence were put together by political opponents, whom he called "sick people." The reports, he said, were "a disgrace," and he vehemently denounced BuzzFeed News, which published a 35-page memo purportedly outlining the Russian intelligence, as "a failing pile of garbage."

He also denied a question from a CNN reporter, which first broke the story of an intelligence report but did not publish the documents or the lewd details.

But Trump didn't answer a question as to whether his presidential campaign had been in contact with the Russian government, which the report alleged.

CNN reporter Jim Acosta noted later on the network that reporters followed up on that point as Trump was heading to the elevators off camera, and Trump said no one "associated with him or his campaign was in contact with the Russians" during the campaign.

Trump was also critical of U.S. intelligence agencies for "maybe" leaking the report to news organizations, charging that a meeting he had recently with the agencies immediately leaked out even though he had kept it secret from his closest staff.

In the evening, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement saying he had spoken with Trump and they agreed the leaks were "extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security." But Clapper denied the media got the alleged Russian evidence from his agencies:

"I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security."

During the news conference, Trump also talked about the hacking of DNC servers and said, "I think it was Russia," but he added "it could have been others also." U.S. intelligence publicly stated last October — and in congressional hearings and an unclassified report since — that the Russian government was to blame for the cyberattack. Trump called hacking "bad" and said he would tell Russian President Vladimir Putin "he shouldn't have done it. I don't believe he will be doing it more."

But he also said he would consider it "an asset, not a liability," if Putin likes him. "I don't know if I'll get along" with the Russian leader, Trump said, "I hope I do."

Trump also denied taking part in any salacious behavior in a Moscow hotel room, saying he always tells people to be very careful when he travels abroad, because "you have cameras in the strangest places. You'd better be careful or you'll be watching yourself on nightly television."

Plus, he added, "Does anyone really believe that story? I'm also very much of a germaphobe, by the way. Believe me."

Trump held his news conference in the marble-lined lobby of Trump Tower in New York, speaking alongside a table piled with manila file folders, which he said were the agreements he has signed giving control of the Trump Organization to his oldest sons.

He introduced attorney Sheri Dillon, of the firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, who said that at Trump's request she had designed a structure "that will completely isolate him" from the management of the company. Trump is conveying leadership and management of the company to his adult sons and longtime Trump executive Allen Weisselberg. Dillon said the three will "make decisions for the duration of the presidency without any involvement whatsoever" by Trump.

Dillon also said the trust agreement "imposes severe restrictions on new deals. No new foreign deals will be made whatsoever during the duration" of Trump's presidency. New domestic deals will be allowed, but they will go through "a vigorous vetting process."

Trump will not be informed of such deals and will only learn of them if he "reads it in the paper or sees it on TV."

And, she said, Trump will donate to the U.S Treasury all profits made from foreign governments who stay at his hotel.

On health care, Trump said "the easiest thing" would be to let the Affordable Care Act "implode" this year, because of increased premium rates. He said Obamacare "is the Democrats' problem," but that he will offer a plan to repeal and replace that is "gonna take the problem off the shelves for them." The plan will be "far less expensive and far better," he said, and will be submitted almost simultaneously as his HHS secretary is confirmed.

Trump also revealed he will be nominating David Shulkin as secretary of the Veterans Administration. Shulkin is currently the No. 2 at the troubled agency and would be one of the first holdovers from the Obama administration. Trump called him an incredibly gifted doctor.

Trump also took a shot at the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, which he charged "has been disastrous." He said drugmakers have been leaving the country left and right and that new bidding procedures are needed for the industry "because they're getting away with murder."

Trump's comments caused drug stocks to fall on Wall Street.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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