President-elect Donald Trump will use his first news conference in nearly six months on Wednesday to lay out a plan to separate himself from his business empire to try to erase questions about potential conflicts of interest, but Russia is likely to take center stage.
In his first formal session with reporters since winning the Nov. 8 election, Trump will likely face questions about his bid to warm U.S. relations with Moscow after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Russia used cyber hacking to try to tilt the election in his favor.
There was an unpredictable element to the news conference, to be held at his Trump Tower headquarters in New York, given Trump’s repeated criticism of the U.S. news media and his belief that many news organizations favored Democrat Hillary Clinton during last year’s presidential campaign.
The president-elect, who is to be sworn in on Jan. 20, has been under pressure to separate himself from his global business operations to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest once he moves into the White House.
After initially declaring there was no law that prohibited him from maintaining control of his business while serving as president, Trump switched gears in December and said legal documents were being crafted “which take me completely out of business operations.”
Trump has said his two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, will manage his businesses and no new deals will be done during his time in office, but has offered few details.
He has not said he would divest from his companies, a step some critics say he should take. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, announced plans on Monday to divest much of his holdings in preparation for taking a senior advisory role in the Trump White House.
While North Korea, Syria, Iran, China, tax reform and border security could well come up at the news conference, questions about Russia are likely to dominate the session.
Trump has faced persistent questions about Russia throughout the past year given his reluctance to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin and his desire to improve U.S. relations with Moscow, including working together to defeat Islamic State militants.
His stance has rattled traditional U.S. allies such as NATO countries and many U.S. foreign policy experts who consider Russia a geopolitical adversary.
Trump has left open how he would respond to the Russian cyber hacking that U.S. intelligence agencies said was aimed at disrupting the presidential campaign.
U.S. intelligence chiefs briefed him on Russian involvement in the election last Friday and he has accepted the fact that it happened.
CNN reported on Tuesday that classified documents presented to Trump in that session included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising information about him.
The allegations were in a two-page synopsis appended to a report presented by U.S. intelligence officials to Trump and Obama on Russian interference in the 2016 election, CNN said, citing multiple U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the briefings.
In an apparent reference to the reports, Trump said in a Twitter posting on Tuesday night: FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney)