Tensions between Donald Trump and the US intelligence agencies is growing with the President-elect denouncing as a “Nazi” tactic the preparation and the leak of a dubious dossier purporting to show that Russians had material to blackmail him.
His first news conference as President-elect on Wednesday was overshadowed by the leak of the unsubstantiated documents originally prepared by a former British intelligence agent and a synopsis that was shared by US intelligence agencies with both Trump and President Barack Obama.
“I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out,” he said. “That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”
In a low point for the US, intelligence agencies — domestic and foreign — are becoming embroiled in politics. The Russians hacked the Democratic Party computers in a cyber version of the Watergate break-in in an attempt to hurt that party’s candidate for President, Hillary Clinton.
And now someone who had ties to British intelligence — he is said to have formerly worked for them — prepares a dossier with unsubstantiated rumours from his Russian sources and US intelligence agencies pick it up and it gets leaked to media in a way that it could undercut Trump’s presidency even before it begins.
Trump poured scorn on the sensationalist website BuzzFeed, which published the 35-page document, and its partner CNN, which disclosed parts of the synopsis, as purveyors of “fake news”.
In an unusual compliment to the media that he has consistently criticised, Trump thanked The New York Times and others for exposing the document as fake news and turning it down. “I’ve just gone up a notch as to what I think of you,” he said.
Trump had been at odds with the intelligence services that said that at the behest of President Vladimir Putin, Russian spy agencies had hacked into the Democratic Party servers and leaked damaging emails to the media in order to help him win.
At his news conference, he finally conceded that the Russians did carry out the hack, but blamed the Democrats for failing to secure their computers.
He also seemed to admonish Putin for the hacking of the Democratic Party servers, saying he shouldn’t have done that — and wouldn’t do it during his presidency. He added that he backed the sanctions that President Barack Obama imposed on Russia for the hacking.
The hour-long news conference at Trump Towers, attended by over 250 journalists from around the world, was dominated by the leaked dossier and Trump’s plans to become “the greatest jobs producer that God ever created” while foreign policy matters took a back seat.
In ways that could affect India, he spoke of his plans to stem flow of manufacturing from the US and took aim at the pharmaceutical sector. “We’ve got to get our drug industry back,” he said.
“Our drug industry has been disastrous. They’re leaving left and right. They supply our drugs, but they don’t make them here, to a large extent.”
India exported $6 billion worth of drugs to the US in 2015 and could feel the impact of this policy, although it could also gain from his plans to cut the cost of pharmaceuticals because of India’s leadership in generics, an area in which US companies have not left America.
He threatened to impose a “border tax” on companies that move manufacturing outside.
Trump spoke about Fiat Chrysler and Ford setting up factories in the US Midwest where the core of his supporters scarred by de-industrialisation live, with more to be announced in the coming weeks. They were all because of his efforts, he said.
Discussion of foreign policy also centred on Russia.
“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 (Islamic State), which, by the way, is, number one, tricky (issue).
“This administration created ISIS by leaving (Iraq) at the wrong time,” he claimed. “The void was created, ISIS was formed.”
While trying to make Russia an ally in the war on terror, Trump also warned of a hardline if he had a falling out with Putin.
“I don’t know that I’m gonna get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do.” he said. “But there’s a good chance I won’t. And if I don’t, do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me?”
Projecting his tough-guy image, Trump made “respect” the focus of his interaction with other countries after business and economy.
“Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading than when other people have led it,” Trump asserted.
“Other countries, including China, which has taken total advantage of us economically, totally advantage of us in the South China Sea by building their massive fortress, total. Russia, China, Japan, Mexico, all countries will respect us far more, far more than they do under past administrations.”
Most of the mainstream media that has been the object of Trumps’s wrath have ironically come to his help on the dossier about Russians purporting to having material to blackmail him.
Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times that is highly critical of Trump, called the allegations “totally unsubstantiated”.
Baquet’s newspaper quoted him as saying: “We, like others, investigated the allegations and haven’t corroborated them, and we felt we’re not in the business of publishing things we can’t stand by.”
The documents spoke of certain sexual practices that had been recorded in Russian hotels. Trump said he was aware that in hotels there would be spy devices and he admonished his staff to be careful. Besides, he said, he was a “germophobe”.