President-elect Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time that Russia hacked into the computer systems of the Democratic Party in an effort to influence the U.S. election and provided a glimpse into how he will approach the early days of his incoming administration.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday. “But we also get hacked by a lot of other people.”
Mr. Trump vigorously rejected unsubstantiated allegations about his behaviour circulating in a dossier published Tuesday. He denied that Russia is in possession of information that could be used to damage him. If Russia did have such material, “they would have been glad to release it,” Mr. Trump said. “Just like they did about Hillary [Clinton].”
In his first news conference since July, Mr. Trump offered a preview of the presidency that will begin on Jan. 20 – a mix of bold promises and explicit threats, delivered by a leader who flatters those he deems friendly to his goals while ridiculing those considered obstacles.
Mr. Trump pledged to repeal and replace the health-care legislation known as Obamacare, nominate a new justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, begin construction on a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and implement a punitive tax on companies moving jobs abroad. He also said he would turn control of his business holdings over to his two adult sons, a step that falls far short of what ethics experts believe is necessary to avoid conflicts.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump addressed the first major battle of his incoming administration, the effort to dismantle his predecessor’s signature achievement. “You’re going to be very, very proud” of the plan his administration puts forward to replace Obamacare, he said, without providing any specifics.
He said he would push for lawmakers to repeal and replace the Obamacare legislation “essentially simultaneously … most likely the same day or the same week.” It is unclear, however, whether that timetable is possible. While dismantling much of the law can be accomplished in relatively simple fashion, replacing it is a far more complicated and time-consuming proposition.
Another pressing item in the days after his inauguration will be the selection of a Supreme Court justice. Mr. Trump’s nominee will occupy the seat held by Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon who died early last year. Since then, Republicans have refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace him.
Mr. Trump said he would choose a justice from a list of 20 “outstanding” nominees within two weeks of becoming president. He said each of the candidates came highly recommended by the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal group.
The early days of his administration would also include “big news” about American companies building facilities in the Midwest, Mr. Trump said. “I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created,” he asserted.
At one point, he appeared to suggest that the states that voted for him would receive special treatment from his administration. “Those states are going to have a lot of jobs, and they’re going to have a lot of security,” he said.
Mr. Trump fired warning shots in the direction of industries, companies and individuals he considers unhelpful. The pharmaceutical industry “has been disastrous, they’re leaving left and right,” he said. “They supply our drugs but don’t make them here.” And he pledged to implement punitive measures for American firms leaving the country. “There will be a major border tax on these companies that are leaving and getting away with murder,” he said.
Later, he mocked Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who was outspoken in his opposition to Mr. Trump’s candidacy for president but whose support the president-elect needs in the Senate. “Lindsey Graham,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ve been competing with him for a long time. He is going to crack that 1-per-cent barrier one day.” Mr. Graham was an early rival to Mr. Trump in the Republican primary contest but received meagre support from voters.
Mr. Trump reserved his fiercest criticism for anyone connected with the release of a dossier prepared by a former British intelligence officer that later came to the attention of U.S. spy agencies. BuzzFeed News, the media outlet that published the dossier in its entirety online on Tuesday, is “a failing pile of garbage,” Mr. Trump said.
The blame for the release of the dossier, he suggested, belonged to the U.S. intelligence community. It was “disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”
Mr. Trump said he had long warned his staff of the possibility of hidden cameras and clandestine surveillance in foreign countries, including Russia. And he made an indirect reference to the alleged sexual behaviour described in the dossier, asserting his phobia of germs makes it impossible. “Does anyone really believe that story?” Mr. Trump said. “I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way.”
JOANNA SLATER – U.S. CORRESPONDENT
The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017 7:24AM EST
Last updated Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017 9:01PM EST