WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump had his most extensive questioning from the media since winning the election, and he addressed some widespread concerns about his business relationship with Russia and his views on foreign policy. He spoke to reporters at his Florida country club, Mar-a-Lago, where he has spent the holidays. Trump stepped out in front of the club’s main entrance with boxing promoter Don King during a dinner party that was attended by some of his longtime friends and top presidential transition team staff.
“You all know Don King,” Trump said as he walked in front of the main entrance of the club. “Who doesn’t know Don King?”
King was wearing a denim jacket festooned with rhinestones and carrying an array of small flags including the standards of the United States, Israel, Japan and Korea. Yahoo News asked King if the Israeli flag was a message for President Barack Obama, whose administration has clashed with Trump over Israeli policy in recent days.
“It’s just great to be an American, and now with our leader we’re going to make new days, make America great again,” King said, adding, “The Israeli flag is about peace, you know, peace in the Middle East.”
Trump proceeded to take multiple questions from the assembled reporters. The president-elect has faced criticism for not holding a press conference–even scheduling and then canceling one–since winning the election last month. Multiple members of his presidential transition team confirmed to Yahoo News that his decision to hold a media availability was a spontaneous one.
Yahoo News asked Trump about a lawsuit filed Dec. 26 by investigative reporter Jason Leopold and researcher Ryan Shapiro, seeking records pertaining to Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. The White House has suggested Trump benefited from the hacking of high-level Democrats that intelligence officials have reportedly attributed to the Russian government. Yahoo News asked Trump if he wanted the government to release any records on Russian hacking.
“You know, what they should do is do the best they can. Figure it all out,” he said.
Trump, who has faced questions over his ties with Russia, was also asked about comments Sen. Lindsey Graham made on Wednesday advocating for sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The president-elect pointed to the fact Graham mounted an unsuccessful White House bid.
“I don’t know what he’s doing. I haven’t spoken to Sen. Graham. I don’t know, haven’t spoken to him, as you know he ran against me, and I haven’t spoken to him,” Trump said.
“You have to admit he shocked the world,” King said, unprompted, of Trump’s upset election victory.
“Sen. Graham ran against me. I haven’t spoken to him since then,” added Trump.
A reporter followed up and asked Trump generally whether he supported sanctions against Russia. Trump indicated that he hoped to have further conversations with members of the U.S. Senate about the issue.
“I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure you have the kind of security that you need. But I have not spoken with the senators, and I certainly will be over a period of time,” Trump said.
Among other things, Trump, a billionaire real estate entrepreneur, also discussed controversies surrounding his business holdings and his personal foundation. The Washington Post has reported Trump admitted to the Internal Revenue Service that he violated a prohibition against “self dealing,” which bars nonprofit leaders from using money from their charities for themselves or their families. According to the paper, Trump has also repeatedly made unverifiable claims about his charitable giving. Earlier this month, Trump said he wanted to dissolve the foundation, but the New York State attorney general’s office has said he cannot do so until it completes an investigation into the organization. Trump was asked about this during his media availability on Wednesday.
“I have a foundation that has given millions and millions of dollars to people over the years and it’s been very well thought of and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “I mean, we’ll just see what happens, but it’s given millions and millions of dollars.
Yahoo News asked Trump about his plans to divest from his business holdings. Trump has faced questions about potential conflicts of interest, particularly stemming from his foreign interests. Trump’s presidential transition team initially said Trump would discuss his plans to disengage from his business in a press conference on Dec. 15, but that event was postponed. The rescheduling fueled criticism over Trump’s lack of engagement with the media. Yahoo News also asked Trump when he planned to hold a formal press conference about his businesses. He suggested the media was overreacting about the issue and vowed he will have “nothing to do” with his business after he takes office on Jan. 20.
As he has in the past, Trump argued he will separate from his business even though there is no law prohibiting the president from potential conflicts of interest. He claimed that he won the election in part based on his appeal as an entrepreneur and suggested these things would make it simple for him to find a solution. Trump also promised to have a formal press conference to address these issues next month.
“I don’t have to because, as you know, I wouldn’t have to do that by law, but I want to do that because I want to focus on the country,” Trump said. “But when I ran, people know I have a very big business, so I mean … they elected me, I guess, partially for that reason. So, I think that’s going to work out very easily. It’s a very — it’s actually a very simple situation. It’s not a big deal and we’ll be … a press conference sometime in early January.”
During his media availability, Trump also discussed his plans for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and touted the claim that the telecom company Sprint has promised to bring 5,000 jobs back to the U.S. following his election. Trump insisted these positions and 3,000 other jobs promised by the company OneWeb were not part of a commitment previously announced by SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son. Trump pointed to a release sent out by Sprint earlier on Wednesday.
“I’ll give you their statement,” Trump said.