Donald Trump points finger at intelligence agencies over Russia dossier
US President-elect Donald Trump has suggested American intelligence agencies may be responsible for releasing a dossier containing allegations that Russia holds compromising information about him.
At his first press conference since winning November's presidential election, Mr Trump thanked media organisations which held back from publishing details from the dossier, which has reportedly been circulating in Washington for some time.
In the hours before the long-awaited event in New York, Mr Trump sent out a series of tweets alleging the publication of the unverified allegations amounted to a "political witch-hunt" and comparing the controversy to events in Nazi Germany.
Mr Trump said that if the intelligence agencies were shown to be responsible for releasing the document, it would be a "tremendous blot" on their reputation.
Reports of the dossier - said to have been drawn up by a former British intelligence officer with extensive experience of Russia - dominated the run-up to Mr Trump's press conference, which came nine days before his inauguration as the 45th US President.
US intelligence officers briefed the Republican president-elect and President Barack Obama about the contents of the document last week and reports emerged last night on CNN. Web-based news site Buzzfeed published the dossier in full.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the reports were "complete fabrication and utter nonsense" and said the Russian government "does not engage in collecting compromising material".
Opening his press conference in front of a row of US flags, Mr Trump said: "I want to thank a lot of the news organisations here today, because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies - who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that, a tremendous blot.
"A thing like that should never have been written, it should never have been had and it should certainly never have been released.
"I want to thank a lot of the news organisations, some of whom have not treated me very well over the years - a couple in particular - and they came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station."
Mr Trump said that news organisations which decided not to publish the claims were "so incredibly professional that I've just gone up a notch as to what I think of you".
After Moscow dismissed the claims, the President-elect sent out a series of angry tweets.
"Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is 'A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.' Very unfair!" he wrote.
"Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!
"I win an election easily, a great 'movement' is verified, and crooked opponents try to belittle our victory with FAKE NEWS. A sorry state!
"Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?"
Prime Minister Theresa May's official spokeswoman declined to comment on the Trump dossier.
Vice-president-elect Mike Pence attacked "irresponsible" media organisations who had carried details of the "false and unsubstantiated report".
At the start of the press conference, Mr Pence said: "The irresponsible decision of a few news organisations to run with a false and unsubstantiated report when most news organisations resisted the temptation to propagate this fake news can only be attributed to media bias and attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration and the American people are sick and tired of it."
Mr Trump said it was a "disgrace" the way the information had been leaked.
"It is all fake news. It is phoney stuff. It didn't happen and it was gotten by opponents of ours," he said.
"It was a group of opponents who got together – sick people – and they put that crap together. Somebody released it. It shouldn't have even entered paper but it should never have even been released. I read what was released and I think it was a disgrace."
Mr Trump said he believed Russia's claim that it did not gather compromising information about him, claiming Moscow would have published whatever it held.
"President Putin and Russia put out a statement today that this fake news was indeed fake news, they said it totally never happened," the controversial tycoon said.
"Somebody would say 'oh of course he's going to say that' - I respected the fact that he said that.
"And I'll be honest - I think if he did have something they would have released it, they would have been glad to release it."
The President-elect also indicated that he thought the hacking of his defeated Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton's emails had uncovered information that was in the public interest.
"Hacking is bad and it shouldn't be done but look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking - that Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn't report it, that's a horrible thing, that's a horrible thing," Mr Trump said.
"Can you imagine if Donald Trump got the questions to the debate?
"It would have been the biggest story in the history of stories and they would have said immediately 'you have to get out of the race' - nobody even talked about it, that's a very terrible thing."
Mr Trump said that while he believed Russia had been involved in cyber hacking against the US "other countries and other people" had also been involved.
He said the Democratic National Committee's computer – which was hacked during the election campaign – had been "totally open to be hacked".
"They did a very poor job. They could have had hacking defence which we had," he said.
"They tried to hack the Republican National Committee and they were unable to break through. We have to do that for our country. It is very important."
Referring to the allegations contained in the dossier, the President-elect told reporters he was a "germophobe".
"Does anyone really believe that story?" he said. "I'm also very much of a germophobe by the way, believe me."
The Republican said he when he travels outside the US, he is "extremely careful".
"I'm surrounded by bodyguards, I'm surround by people and I always tell them ... if I am leaving this country, be very careful because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you are probably going to have cameras.
"I'm not referring just to Russia, but I would certainly put them in that category.
"And, number one, I hope you are going to be good anyway but in those rooms you have cameras in the strangest places, cameras that are so small with modern technology you can't see them and you won't know.
"You'd better be careful or you will be watching yourself on nightly television."
Good relations with President Putin would be an "asset" and he hopes they "get along", he said.
"If Putin likes Donald Trump I consider that an asset, not a liability because we have a horrible relationship with Russia," he said.
"Russia can help us fight Isis, which, by the way, is number one tricky.
"If you look, this administration created Isis by leaving at the wrong time."
He added: "I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do, but there's a good chance I won't.
"And, if I don't, do you honestly believe Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room honestly believe that? Give me a break."
Mr Trump did not respond directly to a question about whether anyone connected to his campaign had any contact with Russia during the run-up to, or the course of, the presidential election, but said his message to Mr Putin was that the hacking must stop.
"He shouldn't be doing it. He won't be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I am leading it than when other people have led it. You will see that," he said.