Authored By Jonathan Easley – 01/11/17
NEW YORK — Long-simmering tensions between Donald Trump, the press and the intelligence community exploded into the open on Wednesday at the president-elect’s first press conference in six months. About 300 reporters jammed into the narrow, gilded atrium at Trump Tower to hear him reject media reports about intelligence officials investigating whether the Russian government has compromising personal and financial information that it could use against him.
Trump also denied reports alleging that the nation’s top national security officials and some members of Congress are looking into whether key figures in the president-elect’s orbit were in touch with Moscow during the presidential campaign about how to defeat Hillary Clinton and get Trump into the White House.
Trump’s fury over the reports reached a boiling point about 50 minutes into the hour long press conference, when he compared the leaks to something you would expect to see in “Nazi Germany” — an attack he’d previously made on Twitter. “It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen and it was gotten by opponents of ours and many of the other people, a group of opponents that got together, sick people,” Trump said. “It should never have been released and it’s a disgrace. I think it’s an absolute disgrace.”Ten of the 17 questions at the press conference — Trump’s first since winning the election — were about the disputed reports, his relationship with Russia, the news media or the nation’s intelligence agencies. Trump fielded the questions from behind a lectern next to a table stacked with documents in manila folders that he said were evidence of the legal work he’s undertaking to separate himself from conflicts of interest stemming from his businesses. He was flanked by more than a dozen top aides and allies, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer, senior advisers Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, longtime confidante Rudy Giuliani and his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, who clapped and cheered him on as he vented frustration about the leaks he claimed were coming from top intelligence officials.
“It would be a tremendous blot on their record,” Trump said of the intelligence agencies. “A tremendous blot, because it never should have been written, had or released.”
Trump and his top aides are also furious with Buzzfeed and CNN for publishing the reports. At one point, Trump called Buzzfeed a “failing pile of garbage,” and he later shut down a question from a CNN reporter, accusing him of dealing in “fake news.” The two reports in CNN and Buzzfeed were markedly different.
CNN reported on Tuesday that U.S. officials briefed Trump and President Obama on allegations that the Russian government has compromising personal and financial information about him. It declined to include any details on the specific allegations, which were uncorroborated and came from a former British intelligence agent hired by Trump’s political opponents, who put together a 35-page dossier detailing the allegations.
Buzzfeed published a story that included the specifics from the 35-page dossier, coming under criticism from many in the media in the process. That led Spicer to begin the press conference with a fierce diatribe against both Buzzfeed and CNN. “The fact Buzzfeed and CNN made the decision to run with this unsubstantiated claim is a sad, pathetic attempt to get clicks,” Spicer said. “For all of the talk about fake news, this political witch hunt by some in the media is based on flimsy reporting and is frankly shameful and disgraceful.”
After being shut down by Trump at the press conference, CNN reporter Jim Acosta said that Spicer threatened to throw him out of the press conference if he continued to try asking questions.
Pence followed Spicer at the press conference with another direct attack on the news media. “The irresponsible decision of a few news organizations to run with a false and unsubstantiated report when most news organizations resisted the temptation to propagate this fake news can only be attributed to media bias and an attempt to demean the president-elect and his incoming administration, and the American people are sick and tired of it,” Pence said.
Trump addressed some of the allegations directly.
Trump said he has no business deals in Russia, no deals in the works, and no debt with the nation. He said he reviewed the passport of his lawyer, Michael Cohen, who was said in the report to have travelled to Prague last year. Cohen never made the trip, Trump said.
And Trump addressed some of the report’s more salacious aspects, saying that they couldn’t be true because he always behaves as if he’s secretly being filmed when he’s travelling abroad and that he has a phobia of germs.
Trump also went out of his way to thank the news organizations that he said showed restraint by refusing to run the story or publish the disputed report.
“I want to thank a lot of the news organizations, some of which have not treated me fairly over the years, that came out strongly against that fake news and the fact it was written by primarily one group and one television station,” Trump said. “I have great respect for the news and freedom of the press, but some news organizations were so professional and have just gone up a notch as to what I think.”
Trump has long clashed with the news media, but his issues with the intelligence community have been picking up steam in recent weeks and appear to be coming to a head. Before his classified briefing last Friday, Trump refused to embrace the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election by hacking the Democratic National Committee. Trump says that he doesn’t accept the intelligence reports as they’re relayed to him, but rather draws his own conclusions based on raw data he gets at the briefings.
On Wednesday, Trump erupted over what he described as an intelligence community that is leaking damaging information about him in an attempt to undermine his administration. “These meetings are confidential and classified, and it’s a disgrace that information would be let out,” he said.