Trump acknowledges Russian involvement in meddling in U.S. elections

Trump acknowledges Russian involvement in US election meddling

President-elect Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that he believes Russian operatives hacked the Democratic Party during the election, but he continued to dispute intelligence reports that Moscow acted to help him win.

“I think it was Russia,” Trump said at a news conference in New York when asked who was responsible for the public leaks of Democratic emails during the campaign.

But Trump emphasized that he believes Russia also would have released damaging information about him had they obtained such information. He angrily denounced news reports that U.S. officials had obtained an unsubstantiated dossier of potentially compromising personal information Russia has allegedly gathered about him, citing denials from the Kremlin that it has any such intelligence.

U.S. officials reportedly included a two-page summary of the dossier in classified briefings of Russia’s meddling in the election to President Obama and, separately, to Trump last week. Trump and his aides, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, called the leaks of the information a smear campaign that aimed to damage Trump politically.

“It’s a disgrace that that information would be let out,” Trump said. “I saw the information; I read the information outside that meeting. It’s all fake news — phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”

Trump also addressed questions about his relationship with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, with whom he has expressed a desire to improve bilateral relations.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that’s an asset not a liability,” Trump said. “I don’t know if I’ll get along with Vladi­mir Putin . . . but even if I don’t does anyone in this room think Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Putin than me? Give me a break.”

Trump made his remarks in his first news conference as president-elect, ending a period of 167 days since he has fielded questions from the full media contingent. Past winners of the presidency have traditionally faced the media much earlier.

An estimated 250 journalists were crowded into the lobby of Trump Tower, where Trump aides had set up 10 American flags in front of a blue curtain.

During the news conference, Trump announced that he has tapped David Shulkin, a physician who is serving in the Obama administration as Veterans Affairs undersecretary, to lead VA. And he detailed plans to shift his business assets into a trust managed by his sons and give up management of his private company, a step that will help the business executive move closer to resolving potential conflicts of interest.

He also again resisted the idea that he should release his tax returns, saying “the only ones that care about my tax returns are the reporters” and suggesting the public does not care about the issue.

Earlier in the day, Trump had charged via Twitter that his “crooked opponents” are trying to undermine his electoral victory. He accused the intelligence community of leaking the information to get in “one last shot at me,” saying, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

At the news conference, Pence and Sean Spicer, who has been tapped to be White House press secretary in Trump’s administration, also denounced news organizations for their reports on the unsubstantiated dossier.

Trump and his aides took particular aim at CNN, which broke the story that intelligence officials had included it in their briefings, and BuzzFeed News, which published a copy of the dossier in full. Trump refused to allow a CNN reporter to ask a question.

“You are fake news,” Trump said to the reporter, Jim Acosta, who had shouted out in an attempt to be called upon.

The president-elect called BuzzFeed “a failing pile of garbage.”

“It’s a disgrace what took place, and I think they ought to apologize to start with,” he said.

U.S. officials said that intelligence agencies have not corroborated the allegations contained in the dossier but believed the sources involved in the reporting were credible enough to warrant inclusion of their claims in the highly classified report on Russian interference in the presidential campaign.

Earlier Wednesday, a spokesman for Putin called the allegations that Russia has collected compromising information about Trump an “absolute fantasy.”

Soon after, Trump tweeted: “Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is ‘A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.’ Very unfair!”

Speaking Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump adviser Reince Priebus called the BuzzFeed report “phony baloney garbage.” He denied that Trump had engaged in compromising behavior in Russia and that Trump aide Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials. Both allegations were contained in the document published by BuzzFeed.

“There was no craziness in Russia. There was no meeting in Prague,” Priebus said. “It is not an intelligence document. Cohen has never been in Prague. And all of this stuff isn’t even fit to print in the New York Times.”

In an interview Tuesday night with NBC News, Obama said that he had not seen the reports and declined to comment on classified information.

Earlier Wednesday, a spokesman for Putin called the allegations that Russia has collected compromising information about Trump an “absolute fantasy.”

Soon after, Trump tweeted: “Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is ‘A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.’ Very unfair!”

Speaking Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump adviser Reince Priebus called the BuzzFeed report “phony baloney garbage.” He denied that Trump had engaged in compromising behavior in Russia and that Trump aide Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials. Both allegations were contained in the document published by BuzzFeed.

“There was no craziness in Russia. There was no meeting in Prague,” Priebus said. “It is not an intelligence document. Cohen has never been in Prague. And all of this stuff isn’t even fit to print in the New York Times.”

In an interview Tuesday night with NBC News, Obama said that he had not seen the reports and declined to comment on classified information.

“Otherwise,” he added, “if they do a bad job, I’ll say, ‘You’re fired.’ ”

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Tyumen region governor Vladimir Yakushev in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel, AP)


 
Russia denies having compromising material on Donald Trump

The Kremlin denied it has compromising information about US President-elect Donald Trump, describing the allegations as "pulp fiction".

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said reports that Trump was the subject of "Kompromat" -- a Russian term for compromising information intended to be used against someone -- were an "attempt to harm our bilateral relationship."

CNN reported Tuesday that intelligence officials last week presented Barack Obama and Trump with a two-page synopsis of memos about the President-elect compiled by a former British intelligence official.

Multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings told CNN that the synopsis included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Trump.

It also contained allegations of a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.

Trump rejected the claims. In a Twitter post Tuesday night, he said: "FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!"

'Complete fiction'

During a conference call on Wednesday, Peskov said the claims were false. "No, the Kremlin does not have 'Kompromat' on Trump," he said in response to a question from CNN. "The information does not correspond to reality and it is complete fiction."

Peskov added: "The fabrication of such lies in terms of the previous open part of the report, and this one which is a comparable lie, it's called pulp fiction in English."

"Clearly there are those who are creating hysteria, who are trying to support this witch hunt, and President-elect Trump himself described it like this."

FBI investigation
CNN has reviewed a 35-page compilation of the memos from which the two-page synopsis was drawn. The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats. CNN is not reporting the details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the allegations. But, in preparing this story, CNN has spoken to multiple high ranking intelligence, administration, congressional and law enforcement officials, as well as foreign officials and others in the private sector with direct knowledge of the memos.

Buzzfeed on Tuesday night published the full set of documents on which the briefing was based.

The allegations came, 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 the allegations, but has not confirmed many of the essential details in the memos about Trump.

In the conference call, Peskov also denied that the Kremlin had compromising material on Hillary Clinton.

"The Kremlin and the Russian president tries to build relationships with our foreign partners in the interests of the Russian Federation and the Russian people and for the world in the interests of stability and security," he added.
'Explosive information'

Sources tell CNN that the allegations about communications between the Trump campaign and the Russians prompted then-Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to contact FBI Director James Comey.

He wrote in a letter in October: "It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government -- a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States."

At a senate hearing on Tuesday, Comey refused to comment on whether the agency was investigating any potential connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"I would never comment on investigations," Comey told Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who repeatedly pushed the FBI director to release any information it had before Inauguration Day.

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an Independent, alluded to Comey's decision to go public on the FBI's additional investigations into Hillary Clinton's emails in the closing stages of the 2016 campaign. "The irony of you making that statement I cannot avoid," King said.

After the hearing, Wyden tweeted: "Director Comey refused to answer my question about whether the FBI has investigated Trump campaign contacts with Russia."


'Pulp fiction': Russia denies ‘compromising materials’ on Trump

The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that his country does not have any "compromising materials" on President-elect Donald Trump or his former rival Hillary Clinton.

It comes after intelligence documents accused Russia of "cultivating, supporting, and assisting" Trump for "at least five years."

The two-page synopsis, which CNN says was attached to a report on Russia's interference in the presidential election, also claims that Russia has possible "blackmail" information on Trump. All of the allegations are unsubstantiated and unverified.

"No, the Kremlin has no compromising materials on Trump,"  presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday, according to the state-owned TASS news agency.

He added that the Kremlin did not have any compromising information on Clinton, the former Democratic presidential candidate.

"This is absolutely fake information, a fabrication and complete nonsense. The Kremlin does not engage in gathering compromising materials," Peskov said, according to TASS.

"It is an obvious attempt to harm our bilateral relations. The quality of the public version of the previous report and this hoax is comparable. In English, it is called pulp fiction," he added, according to Russian news outlet Sputnik.

Intelligence officials briefed Trump and President Obama about the allegations last week. CNN and BuzzFeed published the reports on Tuesday while Mother Jones published a limited version before the election. The report containing the allegations was compiled by a person who claimed to be a former British intelligence official, BuzzFeed reported.

Trump has called the reports "fake news" and a "total political witch hunt."

"Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is "A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE." Very unfair!" he tweeted Wednesday morning.

He added: "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to "leak" into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?"

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