Russia allegations set to overshadow Trump press conference

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Unsubstantiated allegations that Russian intelligence officials have compromising information about US president-elect Donald Trump are set to dominate his first news conference since winning November’s election.

The conference was to have focused on how he will separate himself from his business interests, but comes amid a growing row over Trump’s ties with Russia.

More than 300 journalists had gathered in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York hours before the event was set to begin at 11 am (1600 GMT) amid heightened security at the Manhattan skyscraper, where sidewalks were blocked and businesses were closed.

A synopsis of the allegations was attached to the end of a report by US intelligence agencies on Russian interference in last year’s presidential election, broadcaster CNN reported late Tuesday.

“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets calling the reports “fake news” and likening them to what happened in “Nazi Germany.”

The intelligence memo is reportedly based on a separate report generated by political operatives looking into Trump’s background, but intelligence officials felt they needed to make Trump aware of the charges.

It contains unverified charges allegedly including details about Trump’s sexual activities in Russia and his financial activities, as well as claims that Trump officials met with the Russians during the campaign.

US media outlets have stressed they have been unable to verify the claims and that the report contains some incorrect information.

“I have nothing to do with Russia,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s first news conference since his victory in the November 8 election had originally been scheduled for December 15 before being cancelled and rescheduled. He has not held a press conference since July.

Reporters will also likely press Trump on his business interests and potential conflicts of interest and plans for after he takes office on January 20, including his demand for the repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance reforms and other policies.

More than half of Americans are concerned about Trump’s transparency in outlining his plans and 57 per cent express concern about potential conflicts of interest in his administration, a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found.

The press conference conflicts with a confirmation hearing for Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and transportation secretary nominee Elaine Chao.