NEW YORK (AP) — In a combative and freewheeling news conference, President-elect Donald Trump said for the first time Wednesday that he accepts Russia was behind the election year hacking of Democrats that roiled the White House race. Looking ahead, he urged Congress to move quickly to replace President Barack Obama's signature health care law and insisted anew that Mexico will pay the cost of a border wall.
The hour-long spectacle in the marbled lobby of Trump's Manhattan skyscraper was his first news conference since winning the election in early November, and the famously unconventional politician demonstrated he had not been changed by the weight of his victory.
He defiantly denied reports that Russia had collected compromising personal and financial information about him, lambasting the media for peddling "fake news" and shouting down a journalist from CNN, which reported on the matter. His family and advisers clapped and cheered him on throughout.
Trump's transition has been shadowed by U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia not only meddled in the election, but did so to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. After spending weeks challenging that idea, Trump finally accepted at least part of the intelligence conclusions.
"As far as hacking, I think it was Russia," Trump said, quickly adding that "other countries and other people" also hack U.S. interests. Still, he kept needling the intelligence agencies, saying it would be a "tremendous blot" on their record if officials were leaking information from his classified briefings.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement later that he had spoken with Trump Wednesday evening and told him he does not believe any leaks came from the intelligence community.
One U.S. official told The Associated Press Tuesday night that intelligence people had informed Trump last week about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him. Some media outlets reported on the document, which contains unproven information alleging close coordination between Trump's inner circle and Russians, as well as unverified claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump. The AP has not authenticated any of the claims.
Clapper said Wednesday he had told Trump the intelligence community "has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable."
Wednesday's news conference was initially billed as a chance for Trump to answer questions about his plans for distancing himself from his sprawling, family-owned real estate and licensing business. Lawyer Sheri Dillon stepped to the lectern midway through the event to announce that the president-elect was relinquishing control of the Trump Organization to his adult sons and an executive, as well as putting his business assets in a trust.
The move appears to contradict a previous pledge by the president-elect. In a tweet last month, Trump said that "no new deals" would be done while he was in office.
With dramatic flair, Trump aides piled stacks of manila folders on a table next to the lectern - in front of 10 American flags - before the news conference began. Trump said the folders contained documents he had signed formalizing the new business arrangements, though journalists were not able to view and independently verify the materials.
Some 250 journalists crammed into the Trump Tower lobby for the news conference, which was not only Trump's first since the election, but his first since July. Journalists shouted for his attention. At times, he skipped past questions he appeared to not want to answer, including an inquiry about whether he would keep in place sanctions Obama slapped on Russia in retaliation for the election-related hacking.