At Press Conference, Trump Addresses Russia Hacking, Business Conflicts
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President-elect Donald Trump is facing questions this hour from reporters. It is the first time Trump has held a formal press conference in 167 days, since late July, so we're going to get right to it. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is following all the action, and he's here in the studio. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hello, Rachel.
MARTIN: Of course, this press conference is coming as these explosive reports came out last night, unsubstantiated allegations that Russia has some kind of compromising information on the president-elect. Did Trump have something to say about that?
MONTANARO: He absolutely did. But first, his incoming White House press secretary, as well as Vice President-elect Mike Pence, blasted the media saying that it was shameful and disgraceful that anybody would run with that. And they played a little bit of good cop, bad cop routine because Trump came on and said that he actually thanked the media, thought that some of them went up a notch in his view for not running with some of this information, but clearly called it fake news that he blamed on his opponents. Let's take a listen to some of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: I saw the information. I read the information outside of that meeting. It's all fake news. It's phony stuff. It didn't happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours, as you know because you reported it and so did many of the other people. It was a group of opponents that got together, sick people, and they put that crap together.
MONTANARO: So this was something that intelligence officials say that they had had, that they were - that they could have presented to Donald Trump. It wasn't reported that they actually did present it to him. But this is something that now the Trump people are able to use to say this was all fake, this is nonsense, let's get on to different and more important issues. And certainly a lot more is going to come up in this press conference.
MARTIN: Although he also threw another grenade suggesting that it could've been something leaked from the intelligence community itself.
MONTANARO: Correct. So this still continues this thorny relationship that Donald Trump has had with the intelligence community, saying I don't know if it came from the intelligence community, but maybe it came from the intelligence community, sort of nodding to the fact that this is possible. Of course, he is the American president coming in, and intelligence is going to be something that he's going to have to lean on as the American president. So at some point, you're going to figure that they're going to get on the same page.
MARTIN: Conflicts of interest - this was something that we had expected some questions to come in about. Did he address his global business interests and how he would unravel them?
MONTANARO: He hasn't addressed it yet, though that was the focus of what was supposed to be talked about in the mid-December press conference that was postponed until now. You would imagine with the crush of media that are there that this will come up. He has said that he will try to unwind some of his business entanglements and pass off the management of the Trump Organization to his sons. We haven't heard him address that quite yet.
MARTIN: He made an announcement today, a staffing decision. He chose to use this press conference to announce leadership at the VA.
MONTANARO: He did. And, you know, Donald Trump has normally taken to these sort of provocative picks. He's tried to sort of make a show of some of these kind of high-profile people. Instead, at the VA, he said that he is going to nominate David Shulkin, who is the undersecretary for health at the Veterans Affairs Administration. That is a pretty - maintains some continuity with the Obama administration, frankly. It's this person...
MARTIN: This was someone who had been nominated...
MONTANARO: That's right.
MARTIN: ...By President Obama.
MONTANARO: He was nominated by President Obama in 2015. And he was the head of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, which may be something that gives Trump some confidence because that is a high-profile hospital in New York that a lot of people know. And, you know, when you want to maintain some continuity with the health care of the VA, it's an interesting pick given it's the first crossover.
MARTIN: How significant is it that this is the first press conference Trump has had since July?
MONTANARO: Well - and ironically, that press conference is when he called on Russia, encouraged them to, quote, "find" more of those 30,000, quote, "missing" Hillary Clinton emails. So the fact that he was mocking Hillary Clinton during the campaign for not doing a lot of press conferences, now as president-elect doing fewer press conferences than any president-elect in history - at least since Jimmy Carter - is really quite striking and probably says something about the kind of administration he would run where he feels like he can go around the press in different kinds of ways rather than talking directly through - the American people by proxy through the press.
MARTIN: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro following President-elect Donald Trump's press conference this morning. Thanks so much, Domenico.
MONTANARO: Thanks as always.
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