(NBC News) – President-elect Donald Trump held his first press conference in nearly six months on Wednesday, lambasting the circulation of unverified allegations about his dealings with Russia while continuing to advocate for a warm relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Trump, whose public comments in the wake of the election have been limited to a handful of media interviews and daily Twitter missives, also turned the podium over to an attorney who outlined his plans to shift the management of his company to his sons. But he will not create a blind trust or fully divest of his assets.
Trump’s remarks come just one day after CNN and other outlets including NBC News reported that briefing materials prepared for President-elect Trump included unverified reports that Russia has compromising information on him. Hours later, Buzzfeed published an unverified dossier claiming to detail Russia’s efforts to cultivate Trump — including by direct interactions with Trump surrogates — and to collect compromising information about him. The document has not been authenticated by Buzzfeed, NBC News or any other media outlet. Trump’s team and a Russian spokesperson have vehemently denied the accusations.
The press conference is ongoing. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
On the CNN and Buzzfeed Reports
Before Trump even took the stage, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer and Vice President-elect Mike Pence both denounced Buzzfeed’s report from the podium as false and irresponsible.
Spicer called both the Buzzfeed and CNN reports a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks,” noting that Buzzfeed’s own report had acknowledged errors in the unsubstantiated document.
Upon taking the stage, Trump briefly praised news organizations that did not report on the dossier and warned that it would be “a tremendous blot” on the record of intelligence agencies if they were responsible for circulating the document.
“A thing like that should have never been written, it should never have been had and certainly should never have been released,” he said, later saying the memo was written by “sick people [who] put that crap together.”
On Russian hacking
Trump acknowledged that he believes the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other political groups were conducted by Russians, but he quickly pivoted to mentioning other nations that engage in cyberattacks.
And he continued to repeat the damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign exposed by the hacks. “Hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked. Look at what was learned from that hack,” he said.
While he declined to weigh in on intelligence assessments that indicate that Putin himself ordered operations to aid Trump’s victory, Trump reiterated his favorable language about Putin during the campaign, saying “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability.”
Naming a Veterans Affairs chief
Trump announced that he has selected his pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin. Shuklkin currently serves as an undersecretary at the department.
“We looked long and hard,” Trump said. We interviewed at least 100 people, some good, some not so good,” he said. “We think that this selection will be something that – with time – will straighten it out.”
On his conflict of interest
Trump’s team formally announced at the press conference that he is relinquishing his management of the Trump Organization to his sons and that an ethics adviser will be appointed to its management team to review all new transactions.
But he also will not divest or create a completely blind trust — the solutions overwhelmingly endorsed by ethics experts to eliminate the risk that the president’s assets could become ripe for corruption and influence-peddling.
An attorney who briefed reporters before the press conference also said that, although his team maintains that payments made to his hotel properties do not violate the emoluments cause, Trump will “voluntarily” donate to the United States Treasury all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels.
Ethics experts are already deriding the arrangement as untenable.
“This does not address the emoluments clause concerns, this does not address the conflict concerns. This is using the language of ethics without addressing the actual ethics concerns,” said Kathleen Clark, an ethics specialist at University of Washington law school.
NBC’s Benjy Sarlin contributed to this report.