President-elect Donald Trump held a free-wheeling, hour-long press conference at Trump Tower Wednesday morning -- the first formal news conference he’s held since winning the presidency in November.
The motivation for the news conference, which was initially scheduled for December but delayed by almost a month, was to outline how he will deal with his complex web of business interests once he’s in the White House, Since his election, Mr. Trump has faced serious questions about who will handle his businesses while he’s in the White House -- and how to avoid the myriad conflicts of interest that could arise when a sitting president owns a business empire.
However, much of the press conference ended up focusing on Russian election interference and on reports Tuesday that the intelligence community’s classified report on Russian hacking had an addendum with unverified details of potentially compromising information that Russia has gathered on the president-elect, and that Mr. Trump was briefed on last week.
12:19 a.m. ET Approximately an hour after the press conference started, Mr. Trump and his family have left the room.
12:17 p.m. ET Mr. Trump ignored a question about whether any members of his campaign had had contact with Russian officials during the election season and turned again to the stacks of manila folders next to him.
“These papers are all just a piece of the many, many companies that are being put into a trust to be run by my two sons,” he said. Mr. Trump continued that he hopes he will come back “at the end of eight years” to a company that has been well run, but that if not he will tell his sons “You’re fired.”
12:16 p.m. ET What is Mr. Trump’s message to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the election-related hacking?
“He shouldn’t be doing it, he won’t be doing it,” he said. “Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading it than when other people have led it. You will see that.”
Mr. Trump repeated that “it’s not just Russia” that has been hacking U.S. entities.
12:12 p.m. ET Asked again about the stories on Russia’s compromising information on him, Mr. Trump said the release of those reports is “disgraceful.”
“That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do,” he said, referencing his tweet Wednesday morning.
Mr. Trump called BuzzFeed, which posted the intelligence memo about Russian information, “a failing pile of garbage,” and also criticized CNN for publicizing the reports on Tuesday.
A CNN reporter in the audience attempted to ask a follow-up question, but Mr. Trump repeatedly shut him down.
“No, not you, your organization is terrible. Quiet. Quiet,” he said. As the reporter continued trying to ask a question, talking over another reporter, Mr. Trump continued: “Don’t be rude. Don’t be rude. Don’t. Be. Rude. I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”
12:04 p.m. ET On a question about his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mr. Trump said Mexico will “reimburse” the U.S. for the wall because he doesn’t want to wait to build it until a deal can be made with Mexico.
“I want to get the wall started,” he said. “I don’t want to wait a year and a half until I make my deal with Mexico.”
As for the form that reimbursement will take, Mr. Trump said it’s more likely it will be through a “tax” than a “payment.”
“They will reimburse us for the cost of the wall, whether it’s a tax or whether it’s a payment,” he said. “Probably less likely that it’s a payment.”
12:00 p.m. ET Asked to discuss his administration’s plan for dealing with the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Trump declined to give any specifics but said, “We’re going to get health care taken care of in this country.”
“Obamacare is a complete and total disaster,” he said, citing increased premiums and high deductibles. “...Frankly, we could sit back -- and it was a thought from a political standpoint -- but it wouldn’t be fair to the people.”
11:58 a.m. ET Dillon said that in order to ensure that “it is the American people who will profit” going forward, Mr. Trump has directed that all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels will be donated to the U.S. Treasury.”
11:54 a.m. ET Additionally, Dillon said, a position will be created at the Trump Organization for a “chief compliance counsel,” who will help ensure there are no conflicts of interest.
To people who suggest Mr. Trump should sell his business, Dillon said that would only “exacerbate” the possibility for conflicts.
11:49 a.m. ET Mr. Trump turned the podium over to Sherri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, a lawyer who has been working on the plan for the Trump business empire.
Dillon said Mr. Trump’s business holdings and investments will be put in a trust before Inauguration Day, and that his two adult sons will run the company. Ivanka Trump, whose husband Jared Kushner is set to become a senior adviser to the Trump White House, will have “no further management” role in the company.
She also said there will be “no new foreign deals” made during the duration of Mr. Trump’s presidency, and that domestic deals will be subject to “severe restrictions.”
11:43 a.m. ET Mr. Trump said his two sons, Eric and Donald Jr., Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, will run the Trump Organization while he’s in office, and said the manila folders on the table next to him were “some of the many documents I’ve signed turning over complete and total control.”
Still, Mr. Trump asserted that he would have been able to continue running his business from the White House if he wanted to.
“I could actually run my business ... and run government at the same time,” he said. “I don’t like the way that looks but I’d be able to if I wanted to.”
11:40 a.m. ET Asked to confirm that some of the allegations that Russia has compromising information about his controversial activities while in Russia are false, Mr. Trump replied: “Does anyone really believe that story? I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me.”
He also reaffirmed what he posted on Twitter Wednesday morning, stating that he has no conflicts of interest with Russia.
“I tweeted out that I have no dealings with Russia, I have no deals in Russia, I have no deals that could happen with Russia because we’ve stayed away, and I have no loans,” he said.
11:37 a.m. ET What will Mr. Trump’s stance be toward Vladimir Putin once he takes office? Mr. Trump said he considers Putin’s praise of him to be an “asset,” but said he doesn’t yet know that he’ll “get along” with Putin.
“If Putin likes Donald Trump I consider that an asset not a liability because we have a horrible relationship with Russia,” he said.
“Now I don’t know that I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin,” he said. “I hope I do, but … do you honestly believe that Hillary [Clinton] will be tougher on Putin than me?”
11:33 a.m. ET Asked whether he accepts the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia actively worked to influence the 2016 election, Mr. Trump said he believes Russia was responsible for the hacking -- but stopped short of saying he believed they had an influence on the campaign and its outcome.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russian,” he said. “But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people and I can say that when we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn’t make a big deal out of that, that was something that was extraordinary.”
He also blamed Democratic National Committee for getting hacked, saying the committee “was totally open to be hacked, they did a very poor job.”
11:29 a.m. ET Mr. Trump’s first question was about Russia -- both on the spate of stories yesterday about potentially compromising information as well as the intelligence briefing on Russian hacking he received on Friday.
Mr. Trump said he’s not allowed to discuss information that was presented during his intelligence briefing -- but confirmed he did in fact see the memo in question on compromising information, calling it a “disgrace.”
“I saw the information, I read the information outside of that meeting it’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen and it was gotten by opponents of ours,” he said. “It was a group of opponents who got together, sick people, and they put that crap together.”
11:23 a.m. ET Next, Mr. Trump took the podium, beginning by saying he used to give press conferences on an “almost daily basis” during the campaign. (This is not true -- he did give press conferences during the campaign, but not nearly that frequently.)
He thanked news organizations that did not run stories on Russia’s alleged compromising information about him.
“I want to thank a lot of the news organizations, some of whom have not treated me well over the years, a couple in particular, and they came out so strongly against that fake news,” he said. “I have great respect for the news, I have great respect for freedom of the press and all of that, but I will tell you there were some news organizations … that were so professional, so incredibly professional.”
He also intimated that the stories may have come from intelligence agency leaks -- and said it would be “a tremendous blot on their record if they did that.”
11:20 a.m. ET Vice President-elect Mike Pence also briefly spoke about the Russia stories, decrying “the irresponsible decision of a few news organizations to run with a false and unsubstantiated report.”
11:16 a.m. ET Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer took the podium first, calling the stories about unverified reports saying Russia has compromising information about Mr. Trump “highly salacious” and “flat-out false.”
He denied that three individuals associated with Mr. Trump’s campaign were ever in touch with Russian officials.
“For all the take lately about fake news this political witch-hunt by some in the media is based on some of the most flimsy reporting,” he said.
11:13 a.m. ET President-elect Donald Trump has entered the room.
11:04 a.m. ET At around 11 a.m., when the presser was expected to start, staffers began bringing out stacks of manila folders and putting them on a table next to the podium at Trump Tower. It’s unclear what the contents of the folders might be.
Live at 11 a.m. ET: Donald Trump’s news conference on CBSN
10:30 a.m. ET Wednesday’s presser, expected at 11 a.m. ET, comes just nine days before Mr. Trump is inaugurated.
This is not the first time Mr. Trump has scheduled a press conference to address the future of his business empire. A press conference was previously scheduled for Dec. 15, almost a month before this new date, but Mr. Trump canceled that press conference three days beforehand, saying his team needed more time to sort out the details.
Before Wednesday, Mr. Trump has taken a handful of questions from reporters at gaggles but has not held full news conferences. It will be his first full news conference since July 27.