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Tuesday November 21st, 2017 10:33AM

Trump denies, denounces reports on Russia ties: 'a disgrace'

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Opening his first news conference since the election, President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday responded to suggestions that U.S. intelligence agencies leaked unsubstantiated reports to the media about his relationship with Russia, calling it a "tremendous blot on their record if they did that."

"I think it's a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information, I read the information outside of that meeting," he said, a reference to a classified briefing he received from intelligence leaders. "It's all fake news, it's phony stuff, it didn't happen. It was gotten by opponents of ours," Trump declared in his first news conference since late July.

Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer were defiant as they denounced reports that Russia had obtained compromising personal and financial information about the incoming president. Trump said the report never should have been released and thanked news organizations that showed restraint.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press Tuesday night that intelligence officials had informed Trump last week about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had obtained compromising personal and financial information about him. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the intelligence community's findings last week, the official said.

Nine days from his inauguration as the nation's 45th president, Trump used the previously planned news conference to detail how he planned to avoid conflicts of interest related to his sprawling global business empire.

He also announced that he would nominate David Shulkin to lead Department of Veterans Affairs, elevating him from his current role as VA undersecretary.

As for the intelligence story, media outlets reported on the document late Tuesday and Trump denounced it on Twitter before his news conference. He suggested he was being persecuted for defeating other GOP presidential hopefuls and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the election.

The dossier contains unproven information about close coordination between Trump's inner circle and Russians about hacking into Democratic accounts as well as unproven claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump among other suggestions attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated any of the claims.

Spicer denounced the report at the start of the news conference, calling it "totally unsubstantiated." Pence said the decision to publish the reports could "only be attributed to media bias" and an attempt to "demean" Trump.

___

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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