President-elect Donald Trump has 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 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.”
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.”
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 descending into a circus, and Mr Trump’s initial conciliatory tones gave way defiance and hostility.
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.
But after weeks of scoffing at reports the Russians had hacked Democratic websites to pass along emails damaging to Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump told the conference he thought Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee. Later in the briefing, he suggested the means were justified by the end, explaining: “Look at the things that we learned ... Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it”.
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 confirmed plans to repeal and replace his predecessor’s Obamacare health system and to build a wall along the border with Mexico, with the costs to be reimbursed by Mexico.