US President-elect Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that he believes Russian operatives hacked the Democratic Party during the election, but he continued to dispute intelligence reports that Moscow acted to help him win.
During an at times rancorous press conference, he angrily denounced the publishing of claims he had been caught in a compromising position in Russia and attacked news organisations for publishing the claims, while also lashing US intelligence agencies over the leak of an explosive but unverified dossier.
"I think it was Russia," Mr Trump conceded at the press conference in New York when asked who was responsible for the leaks of Democratic emails during the campaign.
But Mr Trump said he believes Russia would have released damaging information about him had they obtained such information.
Mr Trump also addressed questions about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying "If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that's an asset not a liability. I don't know if I'll get along with Vladimir Putin. . .but even if I don't does anyone in this room think Hillary Clinton will be tougher on Putin than me? Give me a break."
Mr Trump made his remarks in his first news conference as President-elect, ending a period of 167 days since he has fielded questions from the full media contingent. Past winners of the presidency have traditionally faced the press far earlier.
On Wednesday morning the president-elect angrily denounced news reports about a dossier of potentially compromising information Russia has allegedly gathered about him, citing denials from the Kremlin that it has any such intelligence.
The president-elect also charged via Twitter that his "crooked opponents" are trying to undermine his electoral victory. He accused the intelligence community of leaking the information to get in "one last shot at me," saying, "Are we living in Nazi Germany?"
At the news conference on Wednesday he attacked US intelligence agencies over the leak of the dossier, which was published in full by the news and entertainment website Buzzfeed on Tuesday.
"I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out there," Mr Trump told the news conference. He called the dossier that makes salacious claims about him "fake news" and "phony stuff."
"I think it's a disgrace ... That's something that Nazi Germany would have done," the Republican said days ahead of his inauguration.
Mr Trump's comments follow the revelation Tuesday night that a classified report delivered to Mr Trump and President Obama last week, according to US officials, included a section summarising allegations that Russian intelligence services have compromising information about Mr Trump's personal life and finances.
The officials said that US intelligence agencies have not corroborated those allegations but believed the sources involved in the reporting were credible enough to warrant inclusion of their claims in the highly classified report on Russian interference in the presidential campaign.
Earlier Wednesday, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin called the allegations that Russia has collected compromising information about Trump an "absolute fantasy."
Soon after, Mr Trump tweeted: "Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is 'A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.' Very unfair!"
Most media organisations reported only on the existence of the report and that intelligence officials had included a summary of it in their briefings with Mr Trump and Mr Obama on Russia's attempts to sway the election. But BuzzFeed News published a document supposedly created by a former British intelligence official. The information it contains has not been verified.
Mr Trump and other officials appeared to focus on BuzzFeed's publication of the report, denying that the document possesses any truth.
Mr Trump said Wednesday morning that he had no relationship with Russia that could compromise him.
"Russia has never tried to use leverage over me," he said. "I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!"
The Washington Post with Reuters
The story Trump concedes Russia likely hacked DNC, attacks US intelligence agencies over leaks first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.