New York: President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday flatly denied "phony" explosive allegations about ties with Russia and lurid behaviour on a trip to Moscow that have tainted his election victory and threatened to engulf his presidency.
Just over a week before Trump takes office, the US has been rocked by unsubstantiated claims that his aides colluded with the Kremlin to win the election, and that Russia has compromising sexual material on Trump. "I think it's a disgrace that information would be let out," Trump said, training fire on media outlets that published the allegations and the intelligence agencies who he suggested may have leaked it.
"It's all fake news. It's phony stuff. It didn't happen. It was a group of opponents that got together, sick people, and they put that crap together," he said. "It was released by maybe the intelligence agencies, who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be a tremendous blot on their record."
The US intelligence community has concluded that Moscow interfered in the November election in a bid to tip the race in Trump's favor.
Intelligence chiefs had also presented America's incoming 45th president, as well as current President Barack Obama, with a two-page synopsis on the potentially embarrassing but unsubstantiated allegations involving Russia, according to CNN and The New York Times, who cited multiple unnamed US officials with knowledge of the meeting.
The Kremlin has dismissed the dossier, drawn up by a former British intelligence agent hired to do "opposition research" on Trump during the presidential campaign and published by US media outlet BuzzFeed, as a "total fake" aimed at damaging bilateral ties.
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer turned his fire on BuzzFeed. "It's frankly outrageous and highly irresponsible for a Left wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect's campaign to drop highly salacious and flat-out false information on the internet just days before he takes the oath of office," he said, introducing Trump.
Trump later called BuzzFeed "a failing pile of garbage" and warned they would "suffer the consequences". "I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia," Trump then said.
Even before the allegations surfaced widely in US media on Tuesday, Trump's Republican allies have become increasingly uneasy about Russia's role in the election, with calls for an independent investigation growing.
The issue threatens to sap legitimacy from the Trump administration before it even enters the Oval Office. Trump fanned the flames by again downplaying Russia's influence in the outcome of the election and defended his openness towards Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I also think we've been hacked by other countries, other people. If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia," Trump said. "I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there's a good chance I won't."
On Wednesday, Trump would not comment on the classified briefing, but did say he had read some of the information "outside of the briefing," without specifying which parts. "The Kremlin does not have compromising information on Trump," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling journalists. The Kremlin spokesman called the dossier a "total fake" and "an obvious attempt to harm our bilateral relations."
Meanwhile, Donald Trump's businesses will continue to pursue deals in the US, though not abroad, while he is president, and he will relinquish control of the company, a lawyer who worked with the Trump Organization on the plan said.
Trump will put his business assets in a trust and take other steps to isolate himself from his company, according to Sheri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, who spoke at Trump's first news conference since his election on 8 November.
The announcement appears to contradict what Trump had said a tweet last month — "no new deals" while in the White House. The plan also falls short of what some government ethics experts have urged Trump to do — sell his assets and put the cash in a blind trust overseen by an independent manager, as many recent presidents have done.
Dillon said that was not practical, and that Trump "should not be expected to destroy the company he built".
Also, some ethics experts had worried that a complete divestment would take too much time and prove too complicated given that much of Trump's wealth is tied up in real estate that can't be sold quickly and that his business interests are so sprawling. Trump has stakes in 500 companies in about 20 countries.
Under the plan intended to help allay concerns about conflicts of interest, Trump will hand managerial control of his company to his two adult sons and a longtime business executive. Dillon also said that the Trump Organization will appoint an ethics adviser to its management team who must approve deals that could raise concerns about conflicts.
Trump plans to donate money spent by foreign governments at his hotels to the US Treasury, Dillon said.
Trump's new hotel in the nation's capital, not far from the White House, has been under the spotlight since he opened it late last year. There were news reports that diplomats were choosing to stay at the hotel and throw parties there in an apparent attempt to curry favor with the president-elect.
Trump also vowed to forge ahead with plans for a wall on the southern US border after taking office, and said Mexico would reimburse the United States for the cost. "I could wait about a year and a half until we finish our negotiations with Mexico, which we'll start immediately after we get to office, but I don't want to wait," Trump told a news conference.
"We're going to start building," he said. "Mexico in some form — and there are many different forms — will reimburse us and they will reimburse us for the cost of the wall. That will happen. Whether it's a tax or whether it's a payment."
With inputs from agencies