WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said on Wednesday that Russia had never tried to sway his actions and furiously blamed U.S. intelligence agencies for news reports that Moscow had compiled compromising information on him.
In a series of Twitter posts, Trump accused intelligence agencies of taking “one last shot” at him by leaking the information. “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” he asked.
Trump slammed as “fake news” the reports that classified documents presented to him last week by the heads of four U.S. intelligence agencies included claims that Russian intelligence operatives have compromising information about him.
“Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” Trump wrote in one of the Twitter posts.
Two U.S. officials said Tuesday evening that the allegations on the Russian dossier, which one called “unsubstantiated,” were contained in a two-page memo appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election that was presented last week to Trump and to President Barack Obama.
Trump, due to hold his first news conference in nearly six months on Wednesday, pointed to the Kremlin’s denials of the reports on the dossier that emerged late on Tuesday, first reported by CNN.
“Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is ‘A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.’ Very unfair!” he wrote on Twitter.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday it was “total nonsense” that Russian officials had assembled a file of compromising information on Trump.
Reince Priebus, who will be Trump’s White House chief of staff, called the Russian dossier report “phoney baloney garbage.” He told NBC’s “Today” show he had raised the matter with Trump. “He said it was ‘total garbage and I’m keeping it clean,'” Priebus said.
Even before the reports, Russia had been likely to take center stage during Trump’s first formal session with reporters since he won the Nov. 8 presidential election. The news conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. ET (1600 GMT) at his New York offices.
The Republican president-elect has long said he hopes to improve ties with Moscow, but this effort will come under intense scrutiny after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia used cyber attacks and other tactics to try to tilt the presidential election in his favor over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
At the same time in Washington, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson, will likely be grilled at his Senate confirmation hearing over his long business relationship with Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin.
There was an unpredictable element to Trump’s news conference, given his repeated criticism of the U.S. news media and his belief that many news organizations favored Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump, a New York real estate developer, has been under pressure to separate himself from his global business operations to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest once he succeeds Obama on Jan. 20.
After initially declaring there was no law that prohibited him from maintaining control of his business while serving as president, Trump switched gears in December and said legal documents were being crafted “which take me completely out of business operations.”
Trump has said his two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, will manage his businesses and no new deals will be done during his time in office, but has offered few details.
He has not said he would divest from his companies, a step some ethics experts say he should take. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, announced plans on Monday to divest much of his own business holdings in preparation for taking a senior advisory role in the White House.
While North Korea, Syria, Iran, China, tax reform and border security could well come up at the news conference, questions about Russia are likely to dominate the session.
Trump has faced persistent questions about Russia throughout the past year given his reluctance to criticize Putin and his desire to improve U.S. relations with Moscow, including working together to defeat Islamic State militants.
His stance has rattled traditional U.S. allies such as NATO countries and many U.S. foreign policy experts who consider Russia a geopolitical adversary.
Trump has left open how he would respond to the Russian hacking that U.S. intelligence agencies said was aimed at disrupting the presidential campaign.
U.S. intelligence chiefs briefed him on Russian involvement in the election last Friday and he has accepted the fact that it happened.
Apparently referring to the Russian dossier on Trump, Republican U.S. Senator John McCain said in a statement on Wednesday that he had received “sensitive information that has since been made public.” He said he could not make a judgment about its accuracy and had passed it to the FBI director.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott; Editing by Howard Goller and Frances Kerry)