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Trump Acknowledges Russian Involvement In Meddling In U.S. Elections

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Trump Acknowledges Russian Involvement In Meddling In U.S. Elections

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US President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Trump Tower, Manhattan.

Highlights

  1. Donald Trump claimed he has no investments or debt in Russia.
  2. He said Russia would respect US more under his presidency.
  3. He further said Russia could help US in its fight against ISIS.
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 leaks of Democratic emails during the campaign. But Trump emphasized that he believes Russia would have released damaging information about him had they obtained such information.

Trump also addressed questions about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying: "If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that's an asset not a liability. 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 will 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 press far 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. A lectern with the president-elect's transition logo faced rows of worktables where the reporters were prepared to file their reports.

During the news conference, Trump announced that he has tapped David Shulkin, a physician who is currently serving in the Obama administration as VA undersecretary, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. 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 businessman 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.

Before taking questions, Trump angrily disputed reports of potentially compromising information Russia has allegedly gathered about him, according to U.S. intelligence officials, citing denials from the Kremlin that it has any such intelligence. U.S. officials included a two-page summary of the unsubstantiated allegations in briefings of Russia's involvement in the elections to President Obama and, separately, Trump last week.

"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."

Earlier in the day, the president-elect 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, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Sean Spicer, who has been tapped to be White House press secretary in Trump's administration, also denounced the media - particularly BuzzFeed, which published a detailed dossier of the allegations - for publicizing the allegations.

"The irresponsible decision of news organizations to run false and unsubstantiated reports . . . can only be attributed to media bias to demean the president-elect and the incoming administration," Pence said. "The American people are sick and tired of it."

U.S. officials said that intelligence agencies have not corroborated those allegations 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 Russian President Vladimir 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!"

Most media organizations reported only on the existence of the report and that intelligence officials had included a summary of it in their briefings with Trump and Obama on Russia's attempts to sway the election. But BuzzFeed News published a document supposedly created by a former British intelligence official. The information it contains has not been verified.

Trump and other officials appeared to focus on BuzzFeed's publication of the report, denying that the document possesses any truth.

Trump said Wednesday morning that he had no relationship with Russia that could compromise him.

"Russia has never tried to use leverage over me," he said. "I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!"

He again emphasized his belief that his political opponents are trying to undermine his presidency.

"I win an election easily, a great 'movement' is verified, and crooked opponents try to belittle our victory with FAKE NEWS. A sorry state!" he said. "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?"

Speaking on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday, 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 with NBC News on Tuesday night, Obama said he had not seen the report and declined to comment on classified information.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, one of Trump's most controversial Cabinet nominees - his pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who as ExxonMobil chief executive had extensive dealings with Russia and other adversarial countries - is among those who will face scrutiny during Senate confirmation hearings.

Tillerson is expected to emphasize the need for renewed American leadership around the world and warn of a "resurgent Russia."

"Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia," Tillerson is expected to say. "But it was in the absence of American leadership that this door was left open and unintended signals were sent.

"We did not recognize that Russia does not think like we do," Tillerson will say, according to prepared remarks.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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