January 12, 2017 08:12
U.S.-President-elect Donald Trump acknowledged Wednesday that Russia had meddled in the November election, but he said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin liked him, he considered that "an asset, not a liability."
In his first news conference in nearly six months, Trump said in New York that even if Putin supported him for president over Democrat Hillary Clinton, he would be tougher in dealing with the Russian leader on the world stage than she would have been.
"Do you honestly believe Hillary Clinton would be tougher than me?" Trump asked. "Give me a break."
He denied having any financial interest in Russia, saying, "I have no deals in Russia, no deals that could happen, no loans in Russia."
Asked about election-related computer hacking that U.S. intelligence officials believe to have been authorized by Putin, Trump said, "He shouldn't have done it."
The file-sharing group WikiLeaks released thousands of the emails stolen from the hacked computer Clinton campaign chief John Podesta in the month before the election, many of which revealed embarrassing details of behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic officials to help Clinton defeat Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the party's presidential nomination.
While acknowledging Russia's role in that hacking, the president-elect denounced news reports published Tuesday about a dossier containing allegations that Russia had compiled tawdry personal information to compromise him, and that his campaign officials had colluded with Russian intelligence.
"I think that it's a disgrace that was released," he said. "It's all fake news. It didn't happen." He said it would be a "tremendous blot" on the reputation of U.S. intelligence officials if they leaked the dossier to U.S. news organizations. Several news organizations have had the dossier for weeks but withheld it because they could not substantiate the allegations.
◆ 'Complete and Total Control'
Standing in front of 10 U.S. flags and facing 250 journalists, Trump also released long-awaited plans to separate himself from his sprawling business empire so as to avoid conflicts of interest once in office.
He said he would create a trust in which his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, along with one of his Trump Organization executives, would run his global business interests after his January 20 inauguration. The plan falls short of demands that he sell all his holdings and place his wealth in a blind trust in which he would have no idea how his money is invested.
"They're not going to discuss it with me," Trump said of his sons' operation of his decades-old business. "I'm turning over complete and total control to my sons."
Washington lawyer Sheri Dillon said the trust she and other attorneys created for Trump's vast holdings -- including golf courses, hotels, office buildings and consumer product companies bearing his name -- would "completely isolate him from the management of the company."
Dillon said the president-elect was "voluntarily taking this on" and was not required by U.S. law to stop running his businesses while in the White House. She said the president-elect wanted to leave "no doubts" with the American public that he would "completely isolate himself from his businesses."
She said Trump's sons "will have the authority to run the trust without any involvement whatsoever by the president-elect." Dillon said Trump had resigned all his executive positions within his businesses.
Dillon also said the Trump family terminated 30 pending business deals, costing them "millions of dollars" in potential profits, and that the trust would not make any new deals with foreign interests during Trump's presidency. She said Trump would learn about any new deals in the United States only if he read about them in media reports after they were completed.
◆ Questions Could Linger
Ethics officials who worked for President Barack Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, have said that anything short of placing his extensive assets in a blind trust would leave him open to repeated questions about whether actions he took as president would benefit his financial interests.
The president-elect's turnover of control of his business empire to his adult sons falls short of putting the assets in a blind trust because he still will have basic knowledge of what businesses he holds, unless the trust sells them.
Dillon said the establishment of a blind trust, in which Trump would not know what he owned, would be unworkable.
"He can't 'unknow' he owns Trump Tower," she said of the president-elect's New York skyscraper, his business headquarters and home.
The U.S. Constitution bars the president from accepting "emoluments" from foreign interests, but Dillon said that does not apply to foreign payments to Trump's company, as some ethics experts have contended.
She argued that a "fair-value exchange," such as paying to stay at one of Trump's hotels, would not run afoul of the Constitution.
Even so, she said the Trump Organization would voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments to Trump's hotels to the U.S. Treasury.
◆ Criticism of Clinton
In Trump's last news conference on July 27, he began his remarks by lambasting Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, for going months without speaking to reporters.
"It's been 235 days since crooked Hillary Clinton has had a press conference," Trump said at that time. "And you, as reporters who give her all of these glowing reports, should ask yourselves why. And I'll tell you why. Because despite the nice platitudes, she's been a mess."
Most modern U.S. presidents have held news conferences within a few days of winning the White House. While Trump has posted more than 1,600 Twitter comments and made brief statements since the election, he had not met formally with reporters to take questions until Wednesday.
He had initially planned the news conference for mid-December but postponed it while details of the business trust were worked out.
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