At his first press conference since getting elected, Donald Trump casually and briefly defended himself against reports that Russia has collected compromising financial and personal information about him. Then he lied in a breathtaking blue streak about a variety of things and viciously insulted reporters in the room, because that is what he does.
The alleged dossier on Trump released Tuesday night is full of frankly incredible and often shaky-sounding allegations. During the Wednesday press conference, Vice-president elect Mike Pence called the release of the dossier, purportedly written by a former MI6 agent, an attempt “to demean the president-elect.” Then Trump took the stage, to proclaim that the allegations are “nonsense” and to praise the “so professional” news organizations that chose not to run them. “I’ve just gone up a notch with what I think of you,” he beamed. Somewhere, a few people in the room clapped hesitantly (his people).
All this fulsome praise for the responsible press is little different than his tone earlier this morning, when he railed on Twitter against his “crooked” unnamed opponents and “fake news.”
Almost immediately, Trump tried to change the subject, praising himself again for winning the election and promising to do “a real job” as president. He promised the inauguration will be “a beautiful event” full of “tremendous talent,” which is also not true.
In response to questions, Trump said the dossier is “all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.” He said the unnamed people who put out the dossier are “sick people” who “put that crap together.”
And yet, in a casual reversal, Trump also said the hacking of the DNC “was probably Russia” but added that lots of other people hack us too. “We have much hacking going on,” he said, including China on that list without any explanation. He insisted that the RNC wasn’t hacked because they had better defenses. (In fact the RNC was also hacked but the information wasn’t released.)
Trump was asked about intelligence reports that Putin ordered the hacking specifically to help him win. He un-responded by saying that it’s great news that Putin’s his buddy: “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks? That’s an asset, not a liability.” He also bizarrely said that he tells people “all the time” that there are tiny hidden cameras in hotel rooms all over the world when you travel: “I tell many people, be careful. You don’t want to see yourself on television... Again, not just cameras. All over.”
Trump also made a veiled reference to the peeing allegations contained in the report: “I’m also very much of a germaphobe. Believe me.” Everyone laughed. Nobody asked him to explain. Then he said he has “very little debt” and no loans, dealings or debt with Russia. (Trump has staggeringly huge debts.)
He also refused again to release his tax returns, saying, “The only one who cares are the reporters” and “You learn very little from a tax return.” He also emphasized that conflicts of interest don’t apply to the president (“I didn’t know about that” he said, unconvincingly), then brought a woman named Sherri Dillon from a law firm onstage to outline how he is “completely isolating himself” from his businesses to let his sons run them, even though he is not divesting himself from them. Trump’s sons have been heavily involved in the transition process.
Dillon also promised that an “ethics advisor” would be appointed to help sever Trump from the Trump organization, which is also not a solution:
Dillon said, without blinking or smiling or in any way indicating that she was joking, that putting his assets in a blind trust or selling them would “exacerbate” Trump’s conflicts of interest, and would also raise questions about whether he’d been paid too much for them.
Dillon added said that Trump plans to “voluntarily donate” all the profits his hotels make from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, to avoid the appearance that he’s violating the Emoluments Clause. In the words of one politics reporter, that’s not how any of this works:
Trump got back onstage there, to declare himself “very proud” of his cabinet appointees and himself. Then he promised, again, to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” to replace it with something “far better,” to be named later.
It was all garbage, bullshit, and blind, breathtaking mendacity on a staggering scale, combined with a healthy dose of shrugging. Perhaps it was the confusion that Trump is so good at sowing, but there was a bizarre lack of persistence from the reporters in the room, who changed the subject away from Russia, his tax returns, and his business dealings, giving Trump a chance to talk yet again about his plans to tax companies that leave the United States. (Nobody even bothered to point out to him that that plan would cost his daughter Ivanka’s business money, to see how he might respond.)
Trump didn’t even respond to a question about his tweet this morning about living in “Nazi Germany,” choosing instead to talk about building a wall. “Mexico will reimburse us for the cost of a wall,” he said. “That will happen.” He added that lots of people at his rallies liked that line.
“Nobody’s ever had crowds like Trump has had,” the president-elect said contentedly, referring to himself in the third person. “You don’t like to report that.”
Eventually, after a little more prodding, he said it was “disgraceful” that “intelligence agencies” allowed that dossier to be released: “It’s something Nazi Germany would do.” And he called BuzzFeed, who released the dossier in full, “a failing pile of garbage” who would “suffer the consequences.” After shouting over CNN’s Jim Acosta, he denounced media organizations he doesn’t like.
“Some of the media outlets I deal with are fake news,” Trump said, adding that he could name them but wouldn’t bother. “More than anything...I guess the advantage I have is I can speak back.”
Trump was asked to say “once and for all” whether his campaign had contact with Putin or Russia, and to respond to Putin’s alleged hacking. He elected not to respond to the first part of the question.
“He shouldn’t have done it and I don’t think he’ll be doing it more,” he said of Putin’s alleged hacking. He added that everything will be great when he’s in charge: “Russia will have far greater respect for our country when I’m leading it.”
Trump closed with a weak closing remark that hearkened back to the time when he was a reality star and not a terrifying existential threat to humanity. Smiling faintly, he told the room he hopes his sons will do a good job leading his businesses.
“Otherwise, at the end of eight years, I’ll come back and say ‘You’re fired,’” he said, before fleeing the stage.