President-elect Donald Trump holds his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration.
According to an earth-shattering new report circulating in US media, American intelligence believes Russians have deeply compromising personal and financial information on Trump. US spy chiefs reportedly told the president-elect about the allegations last week.
Citing “multiple” unnamed US officials with direct knowledge of the meeting, CNN said intelligence chiefs presented a two-page synopsis on the potential embarrassment for America’s incoming 45th president.
President Barack Obama, who delivered his farewell address late Tuesday, was also briefed on the issue, CNN reported, giving no details of the allegedly compromising information.
Several US media outlets published — without confirming its authenticity — a 35-page dossier on which the synopsis is based, and which had been circulating in Washington circles.
No other US president-elect in modern times has waited so long to go formally before the media, considered important to shore up public accountability, yet Trump has gloried in ripping up the rule book.
The New York billionaire, never previously elected to office, has preferred to make off-the-cuff statements, punch out incendiary tweets, antagonize China and name call anyone who dares cross him from Oscar-winning legend Meryl Streep to an Indiana union leader.
And he roundly dismissed accusations of a cozy and possibly compromising relationship with Russia, a controversy which almost certainly will be raised by journalists Wednesday.
“FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” the president-elect tweeted on Tuesday.
While he has conducted one-on-one interviews with select media and taken questions from reporters at informal settings, his performance will be scrutinized as polls show his already bleak approval ratings deteriorate further as the clock ticks down to inauguration.
– US feud with Russia –
The 70-year-old billionaire, who last gave a news conference on July 27, is expected to go before the cameras at 11:00 am (1600 GMT) at Trump Tower, the glass skyscraper that headquarters his Trump Organization and where he lives in a penthouse on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
It is the same building where he descended a golden escalator on June 16, 2015 to announce his candidacy for president and where he has conducted the bulk of his transition business since his November 8 win.
Washington’s feud with Russia will be scrutinized even further at the Senate confirmation hearing — also due to take place Wednesday — of former ExxonMobil boss Rex Tillerson as Trump’s pick for secretary of state.
Although the Texan embodies Trump’s ideal of a globetrotting deal-maker, he has come under suspicion from the president-elect’s opponents for close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
US intelligence has already made the virtually unprecedented accusation that the Kremlin sought to tip the electoral scales in Trump’s favor by hacking into Democratic Party email servers.
After being told that Putin directed a vast cyberattack and leak campaign aimed at installing him in the White House, Trump condemned as “stupid” anyone opposing better relations with Moscow.
While he accepted the possibility that Moscow was involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee, he previously expressed doubts, and suggested that China, or even a 400 pound, bedridden hacker were just as likely culprits.
– Ethics concerns –
He also has blamed Democrats for the hacking, accusing the Democratic National Committee of “gross negligence” on cyber security.
Trump initially scheduled a post-election press conference for December 15, albeit five weeks after his win, at which he promised to lay out plans for the Trump Organization during his time in office.
Critics are alarmed about myriad ethical and conflict of interest issues that could ensnare not just Trump but members of his family, unless he follows predecessors in committing to a blind trust.
But Trump abruptly postponed the December event and said only that he intends to hand over his business to his adult sons, Donald Jr and Eric without saying whether he intends to divest fully from his firm.
In addition to grilling over his ties to Moscow, concerns have been inflamed by the private nature of his company, which is not listed on the stock market and whose network of hotels, golf clubs and luxury residential towers incorporates 20 countries.
Other questions which could arise include his plans to repeal and replace Obama’s signature healthcare reform, ongoing Senate confirmation hearings for his cabinet nominees and his flouting of a nepotism concerns to appoint son-in-law Jared Kushner a senior advisor.
Several of his cabinet picks have not completed customary ethics reviews and rushed scheduling has drawn flak especially given the complicated assets of those who are billionaires or multi-millionaires.