Nine days before he enters the White House, Trump staged his first encounter with media since July. It was an extraordinary piece of theatre that bore little resemblance to the usual formal, respectful question-and-answer sessions between US reporters and their nation’s leader. Trump admitted he had avoided subjecting himself to press scrutiny in recent months because “we had been getting quite a bit of inaccurate news”.
The session had been called to explain how he would avoid conflicts between his business empire and public duties, but that was overtaken by overnight news that the FBI had been handed unverified but potentially damaging intelligence. This included claims of sexual impropriety in a Moscow hotel room.
The 35-page dossier was handed to FBI director James Comey on December 9 by senior Republican senator John McCain. It was drawn up by a former counter-intelligence official, said to be a former British spy, working on behalf of Trump’s Republican rivals in the presidential primaries and then for a group supporting Hillary Clinton.
In a boastful performance full of outstretched hands and finger-jabbing, Trump lashed out at media, notably CNN and BuzzFeed.
CNN reported Trump and Barack Obama had been briefed about a summary of a memo on Trump’s alleged links with Moscow. BuzzFeed published extensive details of the document that claimed Russian operatives had gathered compromising material against him.
Trump called the dossier “fake news” and said political opponents – “sick people” – had “put that crap together”.
He blamed intelligence agencies for the leak: “It was disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that proved so false and fake to get out. That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done, and did do. That information was false and fake,” he said.
Trump admitted publicly for the first time on the hacking operation which led to demoralising leaks for Clinton and the Democrats: “I think it was Russia.”
He defended expressions of admiration between himself and Russian president Vladimir Putin. “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability,” he snapped.
Trump dismissed the memo at the centre of the storm, insisting that the “alleged sexual impropriety” didn’t happen and could not have happened as he always warned those around him on foreign tours such as the Miss World competition in Russia to be wary of hidden cameras.
The FBI has confirmed it sought a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance court to monitor some US citizens in Trump’s entourage suspected of covert contacts with Moscow. There are reports that a warrant was granted before the election.
Russia said claims of an intelligence gathering operation were “complete fabrication and utter nonsense”.
Trump seized on that before turning to his plans for his first days in office.
He stood in front of 10 American flags and flanked by his closest family and advisers – his children Donald Jr, Ivanka and Eric, chief strategist Steve Bannon (former head of the Breitbart website, much derided for spreading “false news”) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Trump rattled out several major projects that he promised to get under way virtually immediately.
He pledged to unpick his predecessor’s landmark achievement, the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, within moments of gaining power.
Though experts have predicted it will be a fraught and drawn-out process to “repeal and replace” the health insurance programme, Trump promised the scrapping and the replacing would happen “almost simultaneously”.
He said he would announce his nomination for the empty ninth seat on the US supreme court within two weeks of taking office. And he said he would begin to start building a border wall – “it’s not a fence, it’s a wall” – right from the off.
His campaign pledge to get Mexico to pay for the structure would have to come as a reimbursement after the wall was built
He vowed within to have a report prepared into combatting hacking of the US government and businesses within 90 days. “That includes Russia, China, everybody …”
Trump appeared alongside a table with scores of files which he said represented his many assets that were being separated from him.
Investments and assets in the Trump Organization would be put into a trust before inauguration day and he would resign from all positions in the firm; management would be transferred to Donald Jr and Eric; an ethics adviser would be appointed to scrutinise all new deals and transactions that could arouse fears of conflict of interest; no new foreign deals would be undertaken during his presidency.
New domestic deals would be allowed but only after ethical vetting. Critics are unlikely to be satisfied, as the package falls far short of a full divestment of his financial assets or placing them in a blind trust.
Trump said he could run both the Trump Organization and the country “better than anybody. But I don’t want to, it wouldn’t look good.”
He was equally scathing about the latest call to release his tax returns. When a reporter said people cared about seeing the returns, he fired back: “I don’t think so, I won.”