US president-elect Donald Trump last night angrily denied lurid allegations that Russia held compromising personal and financial information about him, and rounded on the US intelligence community, comparing it to the Gestapo.
In a rambling and ill-tempered press conference, the man who will be sworn in as the 45th president of the US in eight days time ignored questions about whether anyone in his campaign had contacts with Moscow during the election campaign.
Instead, he became embroiled in heated exchanges with journalists, issued threats against news organisations, and claimed that if Russian President Vladimir Putin liked him, that would be “an asset not a liability.”
His ire intensified when asked about an unsubstantiated dossier published by US media, alleging Russia’s FSB intelligence agency had obtained sexual material concerning Mr Trump and prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.
The claims, Mr Trump suggested, may have emanated from US intelligence services, which if true, would be a “tremendous blot” on its record.
“I think it was disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out, I think it’s a disgrace,” he said. “And I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”
A belligerent Mr Trump, holding his first press conference since his surprise victory in November, said the details in the dossier was “all fake news” and “phoney stuff.”
The dossier contains unproven information about close coordination between Mr Trump’s inner circle and Russians about hacking into Democratic Party accounts, as well as unproven claims Mr Trump had used prostitutes at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow.
Addressing the document, Mr Trump said: “It didn’t happen and it was gotten by opponents of ours. It was a group of opponents who got together - sick people - and they put that crap together.
“Somebody released it. It shouldn’t have even entered paper but it should never have even been released. I read what was released and I think it was a disgrace.”
Asked if he would consider his position as president if the allegations were proved to be true, Mr Trump replied: “There’s nothing they can come back with.”
In the hours leading up to the event, Russia also strenuously denied the allegations, initially reported by CNN and Buzzfeed.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Mr Putin, dismissed the articles as “pulp fiction” and “complete fabrication and utter nonsense,” adding: “This is an evident attempt to harm our bilateral ties. The Kremlin does not engage in collecting compromising information.”
Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokeswoman declined to comment on the Trump dossier.
The hour long press conference in Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, was originally intended for the Trump team to outline future management plans for the billionaire’s business empire.
It began with Mr Trump discussing his plans for industry and job creation, but after he invited questions from the floor just seven minutes in, proceedings quickly descended into chaos, and Mr Trump’s initial conciliatory tones gave way defiance and hostility, at times referring to himself in the third person.
Mr Trump insisted Moscow had “no leverage” over him as he had “no deals, no loans, no nothing” with Russia.
He said he accepted Mr Putin’s assurance that it had not been gathering information on him and hoped to enjoy good relations with Russia.
“If Putin likes Donald Trump I consider that an asset, not a liability because we have a horrible relationship with Russia,” said the President-elect.
He did not respond directly to a question about whether anyone connected to his campaign had any contact with Russia during the run-up to, or in the course of, the presidential election, but said his message to Mr Putin was that the hacking must stop.
“He shouldn’t be doing it. He won’t be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I am leading it than when other people have led it. You will see that,” he said.
Elsewhere in the conference, Mr Trump once again brushed off demands for the publication of his tax returns, saying he was unable to release them as they were under audit and that, any case, voters had demonstrated that they “don’t care” about the issue by electing him president.
He promised that a replacement for the Obamacare health system would be offered “essentially simultaneously” with the repeal of his predecessor’s signature health law - something that would be virtually impossible to quickly pass given the complexity of the policy changes. Republicans agree on repealing the law but nearly seven years after its passage have failed to reach agreement on its replacement.
Mr Trump has repeatedly said that repealing and replacing Obamacare was a top priority, but has never fully explained how he plans to do it.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that the House would seek to take both steps “concurrently.”
Turning to his plans to build a border wall along the southern border, Mr Trump told journalists he would immediately begin negotiations with Mexico on funding his promised wall after he takes office. He again vowed that “Mexico will pay for the wall but it will be reimbursed.”
He added: “I want to get the wall started. I don’t want to wait a year and a half until I get my deal with Mexico.”
Mr Trump also said he would probably name his choice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in about two weeks. President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the role after Mr Scalia’s death in February last year, but Senate Republicans refused to hold a hearing, leaving the court with just eight members for almost a year.