US president-elect Donald Trump admitted Wednesday that he thought the hacking of Democratic Party officials during the presidential campaign was committed by Russia, as he used a rare news conference to attack media outlets for reporting that the Kremlin may have damaging information about him.
Trump made the admission during his first press conference since winning the November 8 election, after months of questioning US intelligence that pinned the hacking on the Russian government.
"I think it was Russia, but think we also get hacked by other countries," he said.
The billionaire's appearance before reporters was intended primarily to clarify how he would separate himself from his business interests before assuming office, but came amid a growing controversy over his ties with the Kremlin.
Trump and his lawyer did outline plans to hand over his business interests to his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, and remove himself completely from the operations.
Trump also boasted of creating jobs, discussed his plans to build a wall on the US-Mexican border and repeal President Barack Obama's signature health care reforms.
But the conference opened with statements from top Trump team members on the Russia allegations, and it formed the focus of most of the questions.
The controversy surrounded a memo which contains unverified charges allegedly including details about Trump's sexual activities in Russia and his financial activities, as well as claims that Trump officials met with the Russians during the campaign.
Trump told reporters that the allegations "should never have been published."
The release of the information is a "disgrace" and was carried out by "sick people," he said, attacking website BuzzFeed for releasing the dossier and refusing to take a question from a CNN reporter.
A synopsis of the allegations was attached to the end of a report by US intelligence agencies on Russian interference in last year's presidential election, broadcaster CNN reported late Tuesday.
Trump admitted he had read the information, but added: "It's all fake news. It's phony stuff. It didn't happen."
The intelligence memo is reportedly based on a separate report generated by political operatives looking into Trump's background, but intelligence officials felt they needed to make Trump aware of the charges.
A Kremlin spokesman earlier denied the charges as an "absolute fabrication" and claimed it does not collect "compromising information."
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer discounted charges about the meetings with Russians, while Trump claimed he had always been "careful" about his personal dealings, especially while abroad.
He also said he had no business relationships with Russia.
"I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia," Trump said.
US media outlets have stressed they have been unable to verify the claims and that the report contains some incorrect information.
Trump also addressed diplomatic ties with Russia, saying he was unsure whether he will have good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he takes office.
"If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia," Trump said.
Later he claimed Russia would have "much better respect" for the US under his presidency.
The top Democrat in the US Senate meanwhile called for tougher sanctions on Russia over cyberhacking during the election.
"One thing we now all agree on is that Russia is behind the hacking of our election. Even the president-elect has now just said it," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
He demanded "a new, tough sanctions regime in response so Russia can’t get away with what they did and other countries will know as well that they will suffer penalties if they try to interfere with our elections."
More than 300 journalists gathered in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York hours before the event was set to begin at 11 am (1600 GMT) amid heightened security at the Manhattan skyscraper, where sidewalks were blocked and businesses were closed.
Trump's first news conference since his victory had originally been scheduled for December 15 before being cancelled and rescheduled. He had not held a press conference since July.
More than half of Americans are concerned about Trump's transparency in outlining his plans and 57 per cent express concern about potential conflicts of interest in his administration, a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found.
Thursday, January 12, 2017 - 23:45
Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 03:55
Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 20:47