WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump came out swinging at the media in his first news conference since the election, livid over lurid and unverified reports he ridiculed as fake news.
Just before Trump spoke, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer ripped a bizarre conspiracy theory pushed by U.S. intelligence agencies and the establishment media that appeared to be falling apart by the hour.
Advertisement - story continues below
Their statements were a pointed rebuttal Wednesday to unverified reports that Russia possessed compromising personal and financial information on Trump, and the president-elect blasted two American media outlets for publishing the reports, saying they were unsubstantiated.
Trump said the report "should never have been written and never have been released," before praising other news outlets and saying his estimation of them had gone up a notch.
"I do have to say, and I must say, that I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies," Trump said. "But maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they did that. A thing like that should never have been written, it should never have been reported and it certainly should have never been released."
Advertisement - story continues below
The president-elect also said for the first time he believes Russia was behind the DNC hacking ahead of the election.
"I think it was Russia," said Trump. But a few minutes later, he said it could have been another country.
Trump also praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for denying published reports claiming the Russians possessed embarrassing and damaging information about the president-elect.
"It’s all fake news. Its phony stuff. It didn’t happen," Trump said. “It was gotten by opponents of ours. It was a group of opponents that got together. Sick people, and they got together and put that crap together."
A transcript of Trump's remarks can be read here.
Spicer was first up at the podium, blasting BuzzFeed News as a "left-wing blog" and condemning its "irresponsible" decision to publish the Russian dossier.
"Before we start, I want to bring your attention to a few points on the report that was published in BuzzFeed last night. It is frankly outrageous and highly irresponsible left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the presidential campaign to drop highly salacious flat-out false information on the Internet just days before he takes the oath of office."
Spicer accused BuzzFeed and CNN of engaging in "a sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks."
"It is not an intelligence report, plain and simple," he said. "It is frankly shameful and disgraceful."
Vice President-elect Mike Pence also attacked the mainstream media for reporting "fake news" in an effort to delegitimize the election.
At one point during the press conference, Trump got into a war of words with a CNN reporter.
“Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question?” asked Jim Acosta.
“Not you,” Trump said. “Your organization is terrible!”
“You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir?” replied Acosta.
“I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!” Trump responded.
“Now, Mr. President-elect, that’s not appropriate!” declared Acosta.
It all began Tuesday night when BuzzFeed News published a sensational, lurid and unverified account that "A dossier, compiled by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official, alleges Russia has compromising information on Trump."
The dossier alleged, "That the Russian government has been 'cultivating, supporting and assisting' President-elect Donald Trump for five years and gained compromising information about him – even obtaining compromising information in an effort to blackmail him."
The most bizarre and sensational claim in the document is that Trump, knowing the Obamas had slept there, rented the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow, then hired prostitutes to urinate on the bed.
CNN picked up on the story Tuesday night, alleging that "Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump."
CNN claimed the intelligence community presented classified documents to both President Obama and Trump "including allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump."
However, on Wednesday, NBC published a report effectively debunking the CNN claim: "President-elect Donald Trump was not told about unverified reports that Russia has compromising information on him during last week's intelligence briefing, according to a senior intelligence official with knowledge of preparations for the briefing."
NBC also reported that officials had merely prepared a two-page summary of the dossier, and that it had come from "opposition research by anti-Trump Republicans and then shopped by Democrats."
The network said, according to multiple officials, "During the briefing, the president-elect was not briefed on the contents of the summary."
NBC reported another contradiction of the CNN story: "Intel and law enforcement officials agree that none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government, period."
But, before that NBC report, other mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post picked up CNN's version of the story. Then BuzzFeed published the full version of the alleged document, even though it attached the broad disclaimer that its authenticity was "unverified and potentially unverifiable."
Part of the story alleged that Trump aide Michael Cohen went to Prague to coordinate activities with Russian agents.
However, all the main characters involved in the story are adamantly denying it.
Trump tweeted: "FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!"
He added, "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?"
And, "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!"
Putin denied his country had collected or was holding any incriminating evidence on Trump.
Cohen produced his passport on MSNBC to show he had never even been to Prague.
Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus called the report "offensive crap that we shouldn’t even be talking about. This is garbage … shameful is what it is.”
Perhaps the most damning evidence that the news is fake comes from the apparent source of the story, the website 4Chan, which now claims it fabricated the entire account as a hoax.
According to ZeroHedge, "4Chan now claims that the infamous 'golden showers' scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as 'fanfiction,' then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election."
Wilson is a GOP political strategist and media consultant who virulently opposed Trump.
But there is another report that intelligence officials were given the questionable document by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
According to the Daily Mail, "Sworn Donald Trump enemy John McCain admitted Wednesday that he passed the dossier of claims of a Russian blackmail plot against the president-elect."
McCain has now publicly admitted he turned over something, and it seems to be the document in question.
"Late last year, I received sensitive information that has since been made public," he said in a public statement.
"Upon examination of the contents, and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the director of the FBI. That has been the extent of my contact with the FBI or any other government agency regarding this issue," he added.
Then Wednesday morning, the Guardian reported the FBI applied for a warrant to spy on the Trump team, and it may have gotten one.
The Guardian said it "has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation."