Trump concedes Russia behind election interference

President-elect Donald J. Trump during his first press conference since July in Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times
President-elect Trump conceded for the first time that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic institutions during the presidential election, saying at a news conference that, “I think it was Russia” — though a few minutes later he said perhaps it was another country.
But he vigorously denied the swirl of allegations about his behavior that was published online Tuesday, calling it “fake news” and praising Russian President Vladimir V. Putin for saying it was false. “I respected the fact that he said that,” Mr. Trump told reporters.
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“It’s all fake news. Its phony stuff. It didn’t happen,” Mr. Trump said. “It was gotten by opponents of ours. It was a group of opponents that got together. Sick people and they got together and put that crap together.”

Asked what Mr. Trump would say to Mr. Putin, he responded, “He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe he will be doing it more.”

Mr. Trump disputed the allegations that he was involved in salacious behavior in a Russian hotel room, saying that he is always highly aware that there are “cameras in the strangest places” in hotel rooms when he travels around the world.

“You can’t see them and you won’t know,” he said. “You better be careful or you will be watching yourself on nightly televisions.”

It wasn’t particularly presidential but it was surprising

President-elect Trump angrily accused CNN of being “fake news” as he repeatedly refused to take a question from Jim Acosta, the network’s reporter at his news conference.

In a testy exchange between the two men, Mr. Acosta repeatedly asked for a question in order to respond to the president-elect’s accusations against the network. Mr. Trump angrily said, “I am not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”

Mr. Trump also lashed out at Buzzfeed News, which published a document of allegations Tuesday night, calling the news organization a “failing pile of garbage” and saying that “I think they are going to suffer the consequences.”

Trump: Repeal and replace Obamacare immediately

Mr. Trump said he will present a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare “almost simultaneously” with the confirmation of Tom Price, his nominee to be secretary of health and human services.

“We’re going to be submitting as soon as our secretary is approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan,” Mr. Trump said. “It will be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously.”

Mr. Trump said that Republicans could sit back in 2017 and watch the health care system get much worse. He said that would lead Democrats to beg him and Republican lawmakers to make changes to the law.

But instead, he said Republicans will move quickly to repeal President Obama’s health care law and immediately replace it with something that he said will be much better.

“We’re going to get health care taken care of in this country,” he said.

News conference begins with attack on some of news media

Top aides to President-elect Trump on Wednesday used the president-elect’s first news conference in two months to lash out at the media on Wednesday for its reporting on allegations of salacious behavior by Mr. Trump and connections to Russia by several of his advisers.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence called the reporting “false and unsubstantiated” and said the reporting “can only be attributed to media bias and an attempt to demean the president elect and our incoming administration.”

Sean Spicer, who will be press secretary in the next administration, accused Buzzfeed News, which published a 35-page document detailing the allegations, and CNN, which reported on its existence, of a “sad and pathetic” effort to get clicks.

But Mr. Trump, in opening comments at his news conference, praised other news organizations for declining to publish the document, saying his assessment of those organizations had “just gone up a notch.”

How Trump will distance himself from his business

President-elect Trump, insisting he will not divest himself of his vast business empire as he prepares to assume the presidency, plans instead to turn over all of his business operations to a trust controlled by his two oldest sons and a longtime associate, top officials with his company said Wednesday.

He will donate to the United States government all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels, the officials said, describing the arrangements as voluntary measures taken to answer concerns about potential conflicts of interest that would allow Mr. Trump to focus on running the country.

The Trump Organization will also refrain from entering into any new deals with foreign partners, his legal advisers said, backing off from an earlier claim by Mr. Trump that his company would have “no new deals” of any kind during his presidency. Instead, the Trump enterprise will have to clear any new transactions with an ethics adviser to be chosen by the president-elect in coming days. That ethics adviser will vet them for potential conflicts, using a standard that his advisers said had not yet been agreed upon.

The long-promised specifics Mr. Trump’s advisers provided on Wednesday left dozens of unanswered questions about whether or how the president-elect would avoid conflicts as commander in chief.

And they fell short of the recommendations of ethics experts in both parties who have said the only way for Mr. Trump to genuinely eliminate potential conflicts is to place all his real estate holdings and other business ventures in a blind trust over which neither he nor his family has any control, severing him entirely from the enterprise. The explanations also raised fresh questions about whether Mr. Trump could leave office with his financial holdings more valuable than when he entered the White House.

Top officials with Mr. Trump’s company detailed the plans on condition of anonymity on Wednesday to avoid pre-empting a news conference the president-elect will hold later in the day at Trump Tower — his first in nearly six months.

Trump nominates Veterans Affairs secretary

David J. Shulkin, the current undersecretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the head of its sprawling hospital system, will become the secretary of the beleaguered agency, President-elect Trump said Wednesday.

Mr. Trump made the comments during his first full news conference since being elected president two months ago and just nine days before moving into the White House. He answered questions from some of the more than 250 reporters crammed into the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Even as Mr. Trump took questions in New York, his nominee for secretary of state was being grilled on Capitol Hill by lawmakers about his connections to Russia. And news continued to swirl regarding allegations about Mr. Trump presented by intelligence officials to the president-elect.

A defense on Twitter

From the moment the unsubstantiated but explosive intelligence report hit the internet, the questions arose: When and what would Mr. Trump tweet?

The initial volley came shortly after 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday.

He also seconded reports from Moscow that Russian government officials deny having any compromising material on Mr. Trump.

It is true that the Kremlin denied holding any material that it could use to blackmail the incoming president. Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, told reporters: “The Kremlin has no compromising dossier on Trump. Such information isn’t consistent with reality and is nothing but an absolute fantasy.”
Needless to say, Russian officials would not tell the world they had such information if it was meant for blackmail. Also needless to say, an election won with nearly three million votes fewer than your opponent was not won easily.
A Quinnipiac University poll on Tuesday put Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 37 percent.
It should be an interesting news conference at Trump Tower on Wednesday morning.

A multipronged news media pushback

Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer and sometimes spokesman, Michael Cohen, issued his own Twitter defense, a possibly ill-advised reference to Page 18 of the dossier, which alleges a secret meeting between Mr. Cohen and Russian intelligence agents in Prague — not something the Trump team wants attention on.

On CNN on Wednesday, Jake Tapper reported that it was a different Michael Cohen who was in Prague last August. Which one and what his connection — if any — might be to Mr. Trump was left unsaid.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, took another tack. Asked by the late-night talk show host Seth Meyers about the briefing intelligence officials had given Mr. Trump on the matter, she said she was not aware that he had been briefed.
A problem for Trump: You can’t unsee something
Questions continue to swirl about the validity of the dossier alleging that Russian intelligence has deeply compromising material on the man who is about to be commander in chief. But its wide circulation has already had an impact.
On Tuesday night, Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, asked President Obama for a classified briefing on “the compromising information Russia has obtained regarding President-elect Donald Trump.”
On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee’s interim chairwoman, Donna Brazile, pressed for a bipartisan, independent investigation.

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must allow the establishment of an independent bipartisan commission to immediately investigate the full range of foreign interference in the 2016 election and determine what we need to do to keep our democracy safe from foreign interference. As part of that investigation, the commission must investigate President-elect Trump’s personal and financial ties to Russia, ties between his aides and Russia, and the existence of allegedly compromising material that has allegedly been obtained by Russia in order to blackmail him.”

McCain confirms he passed dossier to F.B.I.
As the news media had previously reported, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, confirmed on Wednesday that he had received the disputed dossier late last year and passed it on to James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director.

“Late last year, I received sensitive information that has since been made public. Upon examination of the contents, and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the director of the F.B.I. That has been the extent of my contact with the F.B.I. or any other government agency regarding this issue.”

Key Republican on health care repeal: Slow down
Mr. Trump may be demanding an immediate repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a simultaneous enactment of a Republican replacement — and the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, may be concurring with that rush — but one senator is not on board. And he is an important one.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, addressed the headlong rush on Tuesday night. “The American people deserve health care reform that’s done in the right way, for the right reasons, in the right amount of time,” he said. “It’s not about developing a quick fix. It’s about working toward long-term solutions that work for everyone.”
That is significant. If, as expected, Congress passes parliamentary language in the coming days to protect repeal legislation from a Democratic filibuster, four committees will be empowered to draft the actual bill. Mr. Alexander leads one of those committees.


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