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Analysis, background reports and updates from the PBS NewsHour putting today's news in context.

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    Researchers at the Wistar Institute in Pennsylvania pinpoint a mutation in last winter's flu vaccine. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

    President-elect Donald Trump might use his bully pulpit to spread doubt about vaccines. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

    Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a prominent doubter of the safety of vaccines, told reporters on Tuesday that he will chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity as part of Donald Trump’s administration.

    It’s not clear yet exactly what this panel will aim to do. But the news is already raising concern about what Trump, who has a long history of questioning vaccine safety, could do to undercut childhood vaccines.

    For now, it’s worth taking a look at what’s possible for Trump to change — and what’s not.

    Trump does not have direct authority over vaccine schedules

    The recommendations about which vaccines children should receive and when they should get them are developed by an advisory panel of scientists, called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is different from the panel Robert F. Kennedy will chair. Trump has no power to order the ACIP to make recommendations that are not based in evidence.

    Trump can appoint agency staffers who doubt vaccines

    Trump certainly can fill his administration will like-minded staffers who could steer agencies like the CDC in a new direction. But keep in mind: He can’t just fill ACIP with vaccine doubters. Members are chosen through a rigorous nomination process. And the makeup of the scientific advisory committee on vaccines doesn’t turn over with the start of a new administration; vacancies are staggered, as they are in the US Senate.

    Trump does not have direct authority over vaccine requirements

    Requirements about which vaccines children must receive to enroll in school also don’t fall under the president’s purview. That’s the domain of the states. Consider, for instance, a new law enacted last year in California, which made it much harder for parents to get out of vaccinating their children before enrolling them in school.

    Trump can use his bully pulpit to spread doubt about vaccines

    Experts interviewed late last year told STAT this is perhaps the most powerful way Trump could influence childhood vaccination rates. Fanning uncertainty among wavering parents could go a long way in turning doubt into abstention from vaccines. And that could be dangerous for everyone, as it would increase the likelihood of outbreaks of communicable diseases such as measles.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Jan. 10, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post What Trump, Kennedy can and can’t do to change U.S. vaccine policy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President-elect Donald Trump pauses as he talks to members of the media after a meeting with Pentagon officials at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    File photo of President-elect Donald Trump after a meeting at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Top intelligence officials last week told President-elect Donald Trump about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him, a U.S. official says.

    The briefing about the document was first reported by CNN. A summary of the allegations was separate from a classified assessment of Russia’s suspected attempts to meddle in the U.S. presidential election. Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the intelligence community’s findings last week.

    WATCH LIVE: Donald Trump’s first news conference in six months

    Shortly after news reports were published about the briefing, Trump tweeted: “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”

    And in Moscow, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin denied the report. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday dismissed it as a “complete fabrication and utter nonsense.” He insisted that the Kremlin “does not engage in collecting compromising material.”

    A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that intelligence officials had informed Trump about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him. Trump was expected to hold a previously scheduled news conference Wednesday to discuss his future plans regarding his role with the Trump Organization. The official who discussed the briefing by intelligence figures spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

    The unsubstantiated dossier on Trump was compiled by a former Western intelligence operative as part of an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client who opposed Trump, and later funded by Democrats, according to Mother Jones, which published an article about the report in October and said the operative had turned over the report to the FBI. The New York Times reported the operative had previously worked for British intelligence. The Associated Press has not been able to substantiate the information in the dossier, which misspelled the name of Russia’s largest bank.

    It’s unclear why the intelligence officials decided to brief the president and Trump on the uncorroborated information at this time, but lawmakers and others have repeatedly noted that Russia collects intelligence on both Democrats and Republicans.

    “The Russians also hacked systems associated with the Republicans. They just chose not to release that material yet,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said Tuesday. “There’s nothing that prevents them from doing so at a time of their choosing in the future.”

    Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said in an interview Tuesday on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” that “nobody has sourced it. They’re all unnamed, unspoken sources in the story.” She said it may have originated with a Russian investigator or groups that wanted Hillary Clinton to win the White House.

    The report had been circulating in Washington for months. In October, former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote the FBI asking the bureau to publicly disclose what it knew about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Reid was aware of the dossier before he wrote the letter, according to a person knowledgeable about the subject who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

    FBI Director James Comey refused earlier Tuesday to say whether the FBI was investigating any possible ties between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign, citing policy not to comment on what the FBI might or might not be doing.

    WATCH: Top intelligence officials stop short of providing evidence of Russian hacking at Senate hearing

    Comey was pressed by Democrats on the committee about whether the FBI was conducting an investigation. There was no mention during the hearing about the summary of the dossier, which was attached to the classified hacking assessment.

    “I would never comment on investigations — whether we have one or not — in an open forum like this so I can’t answer one way or another,” Comey told the panel during his first public appearance before Congress since the election. In late October, Comey angered Democrats when he announced 11 days before the election that the FBI was looking at more emails as part of its investigation of Hillary Clinton.

    Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said the American people had a right to know about whether there is an FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.

    An active FBI investigation of the next president for ties between his campaign and a nation accused of meddling in the presidential election could further stoke mistrust in the legitimacy of the democratic process. It could also put Trump’s own FBI in the awkward position of examining the conduct of those closest to the commander-in-chief.

    The FBI was among three U.S. intelligence agencies that collaborated on last week’s report on Russia’s election activity. It tied Russian President Vladimir Putin to the hacking of email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and individual Democrats like Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. It said there was no evidence the Russians tampered with vote tallies; the agencies said they couldn’t assess if Russia succeeded in influencing Americans to vote for Trump.

    Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who opposed Trump in the GOP primary, said Russia’s activity wasn’t guided by its support for Trump, but rather “to influence and to potentially manipulate American public opinion for the purpose of discrediting individual political figures, sowing chaos and division in our politics, sowing doubts about the legitimacy of our elections.”

    Democrats at the committee hearing focused their toughest questions on Comey, who was widely criticized for breaking FBI policy in his decision to notify Congress about additional information that came up related to Clinton. He is in the fourth year of a 10-year term, meaning he is expected to stay on in the Trump administration.

    Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Comey set a new standard by discussing the bureau’s activity related to Clinton’s private email server. That standard, she said, is the FBI discusses ongoing investigations when there is a “unique public interest in the transparency of that issue.”

    The intelligence agencies’ findings on Russian hacking fit that standard, she argued.

    “I’m not sure I can think of an issue of more serious public interest than this one,” Harris said. “This committee needs to understand what the FBI does and does not know about campaign communications with Russia.”

    Sitting beside Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, “Fair point.”

    Associated Press writer Kathleen Hennessey contributed to this report.

    The post Official: Trump was briefed on unverified but potentially compromising report appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Exterior view of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on May 8, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Veterans health care remains a “high risk” issue threatening the federal budget and quality of care for former service members, auditors say in a forthcoming report.

    The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office will place the Veteran Affairs Department’s health system once again on its “high risk” list when it’s released next month. Issued every two years, the list identifies troubled federal programs that could cause significant problems due to waste, fraud, mismanagement or structural flaws.

    The draft report finds that the VA has made only limited progress since a scandal erupted over lengthy wait-times for veterans, Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told The Associated Press. In particular, auditors have pointed to the department’s slow pace in improving access to medical care as well as a need for better implementation of a “Choice Program,” authorized by Congress in 2015 to make it easier for veterans to get private care.

    Government auditors also have cited continuing budget risks due to rising demand for veterans health care as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The GAO, which previously found that schedulers were still manipulating wait times, notes in its upcoming report persistent problems with ambiguous VA policies and inadequate oversight.

    Responding, the VA insisted that it had made steady progress and noted that it is difficult for most agencies to shed the GAO’s “high-risk” rating in fewer than four years. Its health system is responsible for 9 million military veterans and includes more than 1,700 medical facilities.

    “We are meeting regularly with the GAO and are making significant and irrefutable progress,” the VA said. “We must stay focused and build on that progress in order to continue to provide veterans the high quality care and services they deserve.”

    The findings highlight the challenges awaiting President-elect Donald Trump, who has pledged an overhaul of VA but hasn’t chosen anyone to run the government’s second-largest agency. Veterans groups have urged him to move quickly to install a leader who can continue reforms put in place under current VA Secretary Bob McDonald. While problems persist, major veterans organizations have praised McDonald’s willingness to work closely with them and believe improvements are generally on the right track.

    The veterans groups also worry that other possible Trump picks could push for greater privatization of the VA, which they believe would siphon funds from VA medical centers as more services are outsourced to the private sector. They say VA centers are best equipped to handle unique battlefield injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Tester, the Montana senator, also expressed concern. Out of Trump’s Cabinet-level positions, only the VA and Agriculture remain unfilled.

    “Every day he continues to delay his decision, he jeopardizes the seamless transition that is needed to ensure this nation fulfills its commitment to the brave men and women who served,” Tester said.

    Trump met privately Monday with the VA’s current undersecretary for health, David Shulkin. Joe Chenelly, national executive director of AMVETS, said his group was advised by a senior transition team adviser that Trump was “favorably inclined” to retain Shulkin, but no decision has been announced.

    The GAO first listed VA health care as “high risk” in 2015, following the scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died. McDonald, who took the helm in 2014, highlights improvements including the hiring of additional doctors and staff and a new record for completed medical appointments at 5.3 million.

    The restructuring, nicknamed “MyVA,” is designed to provide veterans with a positive customer service experience, regardless of whether they use the department’s website, call their local VA office or walk into a clinic.

    In independent analyses in 2015 and 2016, the AP and GAO separately found little VA progress in reducing waits, with available VA data often misleading.

    McDonald has acknowledged a slow pace in improving wait times, drawing criticism last year after suggesting that wait times shouldn’t really matter in judging VA performance.

    The department has an annual budget of nearly $167 billon, amid rising costs that have roughly tripled since 2002.

    Some veterans groups have expressed support for keeping McDonald as secretary, but that would be a shift for Trump, who has blasted the VA as “the most corrupt agency” and “probably the most incompetently run agency.”

    During the campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to fix the department’s woes and said he would “take care of great veterans.” His transition team last month signaled that Trump was weighing a “public-private option” in which veterans could get all their medical care in the private sector, with the government paying the bill, a stance that McDonald says should be treated with caution.

    Amid stiff opposition from veterans groups and Democrats who oppose greater privatization, Trump’s selection of a VA secretary has slowed.

    Among the candidates Trump has considered are Leo Mackay, a Lockheed Martin executive; Pete Hegseth, former head of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America; former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and former Florida Rep. Jeff Miller. Trump was earlier said to favor Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, who favored greater privatization at the VA, but Cosgrove withdrew his name last month.

    The post VA health system to return to list of troubled federal programs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    FERGUSON, MO -  MARCH 4: A Ferguson police officer stands on watch as protestors demonstrate outside the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri on March 4, 2015. The Federal Department of Justice decided today not to charge then Ferguson Police Officer, Darren Wilson, of any wrongdoing in the August shooting of Michael Brown Jr. The Department of Justice investigation did happen to find Ferguson Police Departments involvement in racially based policing. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)

    A Ferguson police officer stands on watch as protesters demonstrate outside the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015. Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images

    ATLANTA — The so-called “Ferguson effect” — officers backing off of policing out of fear that their actions will be questioned after the fact — has been talked about but never really quantified. A new study suggests the effect is a reality, with three-quarters of officers surveyed saying they are hesitant to use force, even when appropriate, and are less willing to stop and question suspicious people.

    The nonpartisan Pew Research Center questioned at least 8,000 officers from departments with at least 100 officers between May 19 and Aug. 14 last year — most of it ahead of the fatal shootings of five officers in Dallas and three officers in Baton Rouge.

    READ MORE: Report finds racial disparities in police use of force

    What it found was a significant fear among police about their safety and about carrying out some of the everyday acts of policing.

    It also shows a stark difference in how white and black officers view the protests that have taken place after some of the high-profile shootings of black suspects in the past several years, with black officers believing the protests are genuine acts of civil disobedience designed to hold police accountable, while white officers are more skeptical of the protesters’ motives.

    “White officers and black officers have very different views about where we are as a country in terms of achieving equal rights,” said Kim Parker, the director of social trends research for the Pew Research Center.

    Some of the key findings:

    • 86 percent of officers said that fatal encounters between blacks and police have made policing more difficult
    • 93 percent said they’re more concerned about safety
    • 76 percent said they’re more reluctant to use force when appropriate
    • 75 percent said interactions between police and blacks have become more tense
    • 72 percent said they or their colleagues are more reluctant to stop and question people who seem suspicious

    In 2014, a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed black teen Michael Brown, setting off a movement drawing greater scrutiny of police use of force, particularly against black citizens. In the years since, other fatal encounters with police in such cities as Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Milwaukee, Chicago and New York have put officers under the microscope, especially as video has captured more of these events.

    There has been a concern, largely shared in anecdotes, of officers holding back on stopping suspicious people or other policing out of concern that they’d be cast as racist. But the Pew survey provides the first national evidence that those concerns may be having a real impact on how officers do their jobs.

    “Officers are concerned about being the next viral video and so that influences what they do and how they do it and how they think about it,” said Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. He added that he doesn’t believe it’s rampant or that officers are turning a blind eye, “but I still have to believe it may be in a marginal-call situation where there’s a reasonable suspicion on the bubble … that those are the ones they pass up.”

    The survey also suggested a divide between police and the communities they serve on some social issues of the day.

    For example, two-thirds of all officers say deadly encounters with blacks are isolated incidents, but 60 percent of the general public said they believe they are signs of a broader problem between police and blacks.

    The post Pew survey: Officers feel more reluctant to use force, make stops appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Elaine Chao testifies before a Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be transportation secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX2YIET

    Elaine Chao testifies before a Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be transportation secretary on Capitol Hill on Jan. 11, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    WASHINGTON — The incoming Trump administration is looking to “unleash the potential” of private investors to boost the national transportation networks that underpin the U.S. economy, Transportation Secretary-designate Elaine Chao told lawmakers Wednesday.

    Economic gains are being “jeopardized” by aging infrastructure, rising highway fatalities, growing congestion and a failure to keep pace with emerging technologies, Chao testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

    Chao, 63, is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate. She was labor secretary during George W. Bush’s administration and deputy transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush. Her husband is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

    When McConnell introduced Chao at the hearing, he stole a line from former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole: “I regret I have only one wife to give for my country.” Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, is a former transportation and labor secretary.

    Chao joked, “I will be working to lock in the majority leader’s support tonight over dinner.”

    But she hasn’t been immune from criticism. Unions say that as labor secretary, she mostly sided with industry when enforcing labor and safety rules.

    Chao advocated using “innovative financing tools” that can “take full advantage of the estimated trillions in capital that equity firms, pension funds and endowments can invest.” She said private investment should be encouraged with “a bold, new vision.”

    She didn’t detail those incentives, but a paper written by two economic advisers to President-elect Donald Trump recommends providing $137 billion in tax credits to infrastructure investors. His advisers predict that will generate about $1 trillion in investment over 10 years.

    But transportation experts note that investors are interested only in transportation projects that produce revenue, such as toll roads, and there are relatively few large projects like that. They say states need financial help from the federal government to help with a growing backlog of maintenance and repair projects for aging highways, bridges and transit systems. Providing tax incentives also runs the risk of providing a windfall to investors for projects that would have been built anyway.

    Trump repeatedly promised during the campaign to spend $1 trillion on roads, bridges, railways, airports and other types of infrastructure. It’s one of the main ways he said he would create jobs. But he has said little about this since the election.

    Republican congressional leaders have said they’ll wait to see what Trump proposes before tackling a public works bill. Trump has said he expects to be occupied early in his administration with cutting taxes and repealing President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Infrastructure isn’t expected to be dealt with until late spring.

    As transportation secretary, Chao would be responsible for regulating auto, truck, train, transit, pipeline and aviation safety. The department frequently faces pressure from industry to relax safety rules and block new ones.

    Chao, who has been associated with conservative think tanks, is likely to lend a sympathetic ear to industry pleas for less regulation.

    The post Chao: Trump administration looking to ‘unleash’ potential of private investment in transportation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    David Shulkin, Under Secretary of Health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, waves to a reporter after meeting in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton - RTX2Y845

    David Shulkin, Under Secretary of Health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, waves to a reporter after meeting in the lobby of Trump Tower in on Jan. 9, 2017. Photos by REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton 

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday tapped the Department of Veterans Affairs’ top health official to lead a beleaguered agency struggling to meet the health needs of millions of veterans.

    David Shulkin, a former president of the Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, emerged after an extended search for a secretary to put in place the broad changes pledged by Trump. During the presidential campaign, Trump described the VA as “the most corrupt agency” and “probably the most incompetently run agency.”

    Trump announced Shulkin’s selection at a wide-ranging news conference in New York and said he had interviewed at least 100 people for the job. “We’re going to straighten out the VA for our veterans. I’ve been promising that for a long time,” Trump said.

    READ MORE: VA health system to return to list of troubled federal programs

    Shulkin, as undersecretary for health, manages a government-run system responsible for 9 million military veterans in more than 1,700 facilities. He took that job in 2015, charged with improving wait times for medical care following the 2014 scandal involving long waits at the Phoenix VA medical center.

    “We are both eager to begin reforming the areas in our Veterans Affairs system that need critical attention, and do it in a swift, thoughtful and responsible way,” Shulkin said in a statement released by Trump’s transition team.

    The choice is likely to soothe some of the largest veterans organizations. They have praised steps taken by VA Secretary Bob McDonald and feared that other possible picks to head the agency might push for greater privatization.

    Shulkin spent more than two decades in hospital management. He also served as president and CEO of the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and chief medical officer at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

    He is likely to embrace a more modest approach to changes at the VA, having expressed support for closer ties with the private sector but opposing full privatization as undesirable.

    “We’re pleased with this decision,” said Joe Chenelly, national executive director of AMVETS. “We’ve been saying all along and continuity is important at the VA, and Dr. Shulkin definitely understands the problems at the VA.”

    If confirmed by the Senate, Shulkin would lead the government’s second-largest agency with nearly 370,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $167 billion.

    Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

    The post Trump picks Veterans Affairs insider to lead agency appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RTX2YJ45

    President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower. Photo by REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

    NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s business will continue to pursue deals in the United States, though not abroad, while he is president, and he will relinquish control of the company, a lawyer who worked with the Trump Organization on the plan said Wednesday.

    Trump will put his business assets in a trust and take other steps to isolate himself from his company, according to Sheri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, who spoke at Trump’s first news conference since his Nov. 8 election.

    WATCH: Donald Trump’s first news conference as president-elect

    The announcement appears to contradict what Trump had said in a tweet last month — “no new deals” while in the White House.

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    The plan also falls short of what some government ethics experts have urged Trump to do — sell his assets and put the cash in a blind trust overseen by an independent manager, as many recent presidents have done.

    Dillon said that was not practical, and that Trump “should not be expected to destroy the company he built.”

    Also, some ethics experts had worried that a complete divestment would take too much time and prove too complicated given that much of Trump’s wealth is tied up in real estate that can’t be sold quickly and that his business interests are so sprawling. Trump has stakes in 500 companies in about 20 countries.

    Under the plan intended to help allay concerns about conflicts of interest, Trump will hand managerial control of his company to his two adult sons and a longtime business executive. Dillon also said that the Trump Organization will appoint an ethics adviser to its management team who must approve deals that could raise concerns about conflicts.

    Trump plans to donate money spent by foreign governments at his hotels to the U.S. Treasury, Dillon said.

    Trump’s new hotel in the nation’s capital, not far from the White House, has been under the spotlight since he opened it late last year. There were news reports that diplomats were choosing to stay at the hotel and throw parties there in an apparent attempt to curry favor with the president-elect.

    The post The plan to address Trump conflict of interest concerns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump calls on reporters during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RTX2YJ2D

    President-elect Donald Trump called on reporters during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower. Photo by REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

    NEW YORK – President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday compared a U.S. intelligence report to Nazi Germany. He referred to himself in the third person. And he heaped insults on multiple news organizations, calling one a “failing pile of garbage.”

    At his first press conference in six months, Mr. Trump, a former reality television star, exhibited the showman’s flair that helped propel him to the presidency.

    But in the process, the president-elect resorted to a dizzying array of hyperbole, falsehoods and contradictions as he squared off against the press in a brown marble atrium at Trump Tower in New York.

    The hour-long press confrontation raised as many questions as it answered, especially around Mr. Trump’s plan to distance himself from his business empire.

    And it left little doubt that the relationship between Mr. Trump and the press will be fraught with tension over the next four years. At one point, in the most heated back-and-forth, Mr. Trump refused to take a question from a CNN reporter. “You are fake news,” he said, and moved on.

    The news conference got off to a contentious start.

    Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, and Vice-President Elect Mike Pence, set the tone from the start by criticizing news reports that Russia had compiled a dossier of harmful information about Mr. Trump during the campaign.

    The hacked information on Mr. Trump, which Buzzfeed and CNN reported had been included in an intelligence report presented to the president-elect and President Obama last week, has not been verified by U.S. intelligence officials.

    Spicer called the news stories a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.” Pence said the reporting was an effort to “delegitimize this election and demean the incoming administration.”

    Mr. Trump followed suit. In his opening remarks, he thanked “a lot of the news organizations here today” for choosing not to publish the story.

    But then, in response to the first question of the press conference, from Fox News’ John Roberts, Mr. Trump’s tone shifted.

    “It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen. It was gotten by opponents of mine,” Mr. Trump said, adding that they were “sick people” who “put that crap together.”

    Up until then, Mr. Trump seemed willing to give the media some leeway. He allowed a reporter to interrupt and ask a second question on whether or not he planned to release his tax returns after taking office. (“I don’t think so,” Mr. Trump said flatly).

    The president-elect and his team also satisfied the media’s hunger for news by putting out the most detailed plan yet on how Mr. Trump would handle his business ventures as president.

    An attorney for Mr. Trump said he would turn over operation of the Trump Organization to his two adult sons, and take other steps to avoid an appearance of conflicts of interest.

    Mr. Trump also made other news, including the announcement that he plans to nominate a Supreme Court justice within two weeks of his inauguration, though he hasn’t made good on some of his pledges in the past. (The press conference itself was supposed to take place last month, but was delayed by several weeks).

    But as the press conference continued, and Mr. Trump was repeatedly asked about Russia’s interference in the election, his patience began to wear out.

    Mr. Trump called the news stories about the leaked dossier on his past a “disgrace,” adding, “I think it’s something that Nazi Germany would have done, and did do.”

    When CNN’s Jim Acosta attempted a follow-up question, Mr. Trump cut him off. “Not you. Not you. Your organization is terrible,” he said. As Acosta tried to respond, Mr. Trump abruptly ended the exchange. “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news,” he said.

    Feuding between Mr. Trump and a major news organization isn’t new. During his election campaign, Mr. Trump attacked the media often, complaining that the coverage of him wasn’t fair or accurate. CNN became a favorite punching bag, as did the New York Times.

    Critics argued that Mr. Trump, a shrewd manipulator of the press, was creating the media firestorms to draw attention away from negative news stories about his campaign.

    Wednesday’s press conference made clear that Mr. Trump won’t abandon the strategy once he enters the White House.

    As it wound down, Mr. Trump, now in full command of the show, swatted down another reporter’s follow-up question. The final exchange was telling.

    A reporter asked Mr. Trump if he or anyone on his campaign had made contact with Russian officials during the election, and what message the president-elect had for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Mr. Trump gave a pat response about his relationship with Russia, but ignored the first part of the question. Then he disappeared into an elevator, surrounded by a phalanx of security guards.

    The post Donald Trump’s press conference was a press confrontation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo of U.S. Supreme Court by Molly Riley/Reuters

    Photo of U.S. Supreme Court by Molly Riley/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed willing to put more bite into a law that requires public schools to help learning-disabled students.

    Most of the justices indicated during arguments that school districts must offer more than the bare minimum of services to children with special needs. But they struggled over how to clarify the law without inviting even more litigation between frustrated parents and cash-strapped schools.

    The court is considering an appeal from the parents of an autistic teen in Colorado who say their public school did not go far enough in helping their son. They want to be reimbursed for the cost of sending him to private school.

    The case could have major implications for millions of disabled students who rely on schools to make special arrangements. School districts warn that imposing higher standards will be too costly and encourage parents to make unrealistic demands.

    “If we suddenly adopt a new standard, all over the country, we’ll have judges and lawyers and people interpreting it differently,” Justice Stephen Breyer said.

    The debate centers on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law that requires a “free and appropriate public education” for disabled students. The Supreme Court last considered the issue in a 1982 case that said the law requires schools to come up with a plan that gives the student “some educational benefit.”

    But lower courts have disagreed over exactly what that phrase means and how far a school must go. Some courts say it can be anything greater than a trivial effort, while others have required schools to do more.

    Advocacy groups say the confusion has left wide disparities among states in the level of educational benefits that schools offer to children with special needs.

    Chief Justice John Roberts told Neal Katyal, representing the Douglas County School District near Denver, that the standard seems to require more than just a minimum effort from schools.

    “It says ‘some benefit,’ but you’re reading it as saying ‘some’ benefit and the other side is reading it as saying some ‘benefit,'” Roberts said, to laughter, as he switched his emphasis on the words.

    In the case before the court, the boy known only as Endrew F. attended public school outside Denver from kindergarten through fourth grades, where he received specialized instruction to deal with learning and behavioral issues.

    In 2010, Endrew’s parents decided to send him to private school after saying they were frustrated by his lack of progress. They want to be reimbursed for his tuition — about $70,000 a year — because they claim public school officials didn’t do enough to comply with the law.

    The Colorado Department of Education denied their claim, saying the school district had satisfied its obligations under the law. The federal appeals court in Denver upheld that decision, ruling that the school district met its duty to provide more than a “de minimus” effort.

    The family’s attorney, Jeffrey Fisher, argued that the law requires more than “just-above-trivial” benefits. Most of the justices seemed to agree and spent much of the session trying out different words that would convey the right message to lower courts.

    Fisher urged the justices to make clear it requires benefits designed “to provide substantially equal educational opportunities.”

    But Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan said they had problems with the word “equal” since the law focuses on what’s best for individual students. Fisher then suggested schools at least had to offer the kind of support that allows a disabled child to progress from grade to grade.

    Justice Department lawyer Irv Gornstein, arguing in support of the parents, said the schools’ obligation should be described as making “significant progress towards grade-level standards.”

    Breyer wondered about adding “significant and appropriate.” Gornstein said he had no problem with that formulation.

    Justice Samuel Alito later said he was frustrated by the “blizzard of words” that could mean anything when read literally.

    “What everybody seems to be looking for is the word that has just the right nuance to express this thought,” Alito said.

    Katyal, the school districts’ lawyer, suggested the high court didn’t need to clarify anything because the current standard “had bite” in the lower courts.

    But Kagan strongly disagreed.

    “If somebody said to you, write a standard with bite, I doubt you would come up with the words “more than merely de minimis,” she said.

    A ruling is expected by the end of June.

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    Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s choice as secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, denied Wednesday that he had pressed the U.S. to avoid sanctioning Russia over foreign-policy disputes. The record, though, is not so clear.

    The nominee testified at his confirmation hearing that “I have never lobbied against sanctions personally” and “to my knowledge, Exxon never directly lobbied against sanctions.”

    There’s ample evidence, though, that the company was active in seeking to protect its interests in Russia. As a bill to impose sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region moved through Congress in 2014, Exxon sought to influence the outcome, according to congressional records and data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog on money and politics. President Barack Obama signed the measure into law later that year.

    Given a second chance on the subject at the Senate hearing, Tillerson sought to clarify his answer by saying his opposition came after sanctions were imposed and that he expressed security-related concerns.

    Tillerson has spoken of his almost two-decade relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the time, his company’s stake in a lucrative offshore drilling project with the Russian state oil company Rosneft was under threat. He made numerous White House visits, to no avail.

    The new U.S. sanctions banned the transfer to Russia of advanced offshore and shale technology, and Exxon was ordered to stop drilling in the Kara Sea, leaving the site’s potential riches untapped. Tillerson’s main partner, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, was added to a U.S. sanctions blacklist.

    Tillerson has spoken publicly of his desire to see the sanctions lifted, which would benefit Exxon.

    At Exxon’s 2014 shareholder meeting, Tillerson said, “We always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who are they really harming.”

    READ MORE: A guide to this week’s confirmation hearings: Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson and more

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    FILE PHOTO - A U.S. flag flutters in the wind above a Volkswagen dealership in Carlsbad, California, U.S. May 2, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo - RTX2YFQS

    A flag flutters in the wind above a Volkswagen dealership in Carlsbad, California. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

    Volkswagen has agreed to a plea bargain and $4.3 billion in fines as a result of the company’s diesel emissions cheating scandal.

    U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy announced Tuesday that the German automaker would plead guilty to felony charges.

    The agreement will require the company to pay a $2.8 billion criminal penalty and a separate $1.5 billion civil claims penalty. Additionally, Volkswagen will be required to cooperate with the ongoing investigation and retain an independent monitor to oversee its ethics and compliance program.

    The Justice Department had accused the company of trying to sell approximately 600,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. by using a defeat device to cheat on emissions tests and said Volkswagen’s actions resulted in harmful air pollution of up to 40 times more than the legal federal limit.

    “For years, VW advertised its vehicles as complying with federal anti-pollution measures,” Lynch said. “But in fact, hundreds of thousands of cars that VW sold in the United States were pumping illegal levels of nitrogen oxides into our atmosphere.”

    “What’s more,” said Lynch, “these vehicles were equipped with software that masked the true amount of pollutants the cars released, thwarting regulators during environmental testing.”

    Six Volkswagen executives and employees have been indicted in connection with the case. Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Jens Hadler, Richard Dorenkamp, Bernd Gottweis, Oliver Schmidt and Jurgen Peter have all been indicted on charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States, violations of the Clean Air Act and wire fraud.

    Volkswagen’s agreement with the DOJ is separate from past settlements that required the company to spend more than $15 billion to mitigate pollution and compensate car dealers and consumers.

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    President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Trump Tower. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

    President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Trump Tower. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The director of the federal government’s ethics agency is blasting president-elect Donald Trump’s plan to maintain his business empire by turning it over to his sons instead of selling off all his corporate assets and placing remaining profits in a government-approved blind trust.

    U.S. Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub said Tuesday that Trump’s solution to a potential cascade of ethics conflicts spurred by his global business holdings breaks 40 years of precedent by presidents from both parties.

    Shaub, a 2013 Obama appointee, openly pleaded with Trump to reconsider his plan before his inauguration. Shaub said Trump should agree to “divestiture,” a process under which he would sell his corporate assets and place the profit in a blind trust administered by a neutral trustee approved by the OGE

    WATCH: Some Trump nominees missing crucial ethics paperwork as confirmation hearings begin

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    U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTSN86Z

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    STEVE INSKEEP: And finally tonight, we continue our series about The Obama Years.

    In his farewell address last night, the president spoke of his actions against climate change, including a global accord to reduce emissions.

    He did more as his time in office went on, despite opponents who criticized the costs or doubted the science.

    Miles O’Brien reports, as part of our weekly look at the Leading Edge of science and technology.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And that’s why I invited Luther, my anger translator, to join me here tonight.


    MILES O’BRIEN: In the long, heated debate over global warming, this was a night to remember.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But we do need to stay focused on some big challenges, like climate change.

    KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY, Actor: Hey, listen, you all, if you haven’t noticed, California is bone-dry.

    MILES O’BRIEN: At the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2015, Barack Obama became the first president to openly scorn climate change deniers, with the help of comedian Keegan-Michael Key playing the president’s anger translator, Luther.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Instead of doing anything about it, we have got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate.

    KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: OK. OK. OK. I think I got it, bro.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is crazy. What about our kids? What kind of stupid, shortsighted, irresponsible bull…

    KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Hey!


    MILES O’BRIEN: By all accounts, the president’s frustration and anger were real.

    CAROL BROWNER, Former Senior Advisor to President Obama: I think that this president believes that climate change is real. He believes there is a moral and ethical imperative to act. And he has taken the laws on the books and implemented them to their fullest.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Carol Browner ran the Environmental Protection Agency in the ’90s. She joined the Obama White House as a senior adviser. She helped guide the administration as it aggressively employed existing laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    They raised the bar on mileage for automakers, made appliances more efficient and tried to control carbon dioxide emissions at power plants as if it were any other kind of pollutant.

    CAROL BROWNER: He said, “This is a serious problem, and I am committed to taking every step.”

    MILES O’BRIEN: But, for Browner, the rule changes were a consolation prize. She came to the White House to shepherd a sweeping climate change bill through Congress.

    CAROL BROWNER: We had looked economy-wide to look at all sources of carbon pollution. At the time, it really seemed like the thoughtful and wise thing to do, because, obviously, this is an economy-wide problem.

    MILES O’BRIEN: She envisioned an economy-wide cap-and-trade system that would have set a nationwide limit, or cap, on greenhouse gas emissions. Companies would be granted allowances to produce these climate-altering gases. Those that produced less than their allowance could sell or trade permits to emit more to companies that could not reach the goal.

    But the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, sponsored by Democrats Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, ran into a political buzz saw.

    Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin is the president of the American Action Forum and a veteran of the John McCain presidential campaign.

    DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, American Action Forum: It was a very intrusive, heavily regulatory bill, where literally, at the key moment, John Boehner literally went to the podium, started flipping through and reading pages randomly, and he could find something bad on everyone.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Then-House Minority Leader: Twenty percent of the electricity that goes into every federal agency has to come from renewable sources. Do we have any idea whether this is possible? I can’t find the answer here.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The money that would change hands in cap-and-trade was supposed to stay in the private sector, not go to the U.S. Treasury. But in its first budget message to Congress, the administration implied it would auction the emission allowances to companies, making it look like a tax.

    ROBERT STAVINS, Harvard University: Some staffers on the Hill or someone saw that, and within six months, cap-and-trade became labeled as cap-and-tax.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Robert Stavins is the director of the Environmental Economics Program at Harvard.

    ROBERT STAVINS: And that was the theme that conservative Republicans and coal state Democrats used to fight against Waxman-Markey in the House of Representatives and to stop it in the Senate.

    MAN: I sued the EPA, and I will take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill, because it’s bad for West Virginia.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The cap-and-trade climate bill passed in the House in 2009.

    MAN: The bill is passed.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But it never even reached the floor of the Senate for a vote.

    DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN: Had they scaled it back and answered the question, what can we get the votes for, that would have been very different than Waxman-Markey.

    MILES O’BRIEN: After Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections, the administration’s lawmaking prospects were fading.

    So, Mr. Obama started issuing executive orders aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

    John Holdren is the president’s science adviser.

    JOHN HOLDREN, Senior Advisor to President Obama: I think it was the only sensible decision to make, to ask, what can we do using executive authority to carry us until we get a Congress that’s more willing to consider these kinds of actions?

    MILES O’BRIEN: The biggest of these rule-making steps was the Clean Power Plan.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.


    MILES O’BRIEN: It uses the Clean Air Act, first enacted in 1963, to control other pollutants to encourage states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions generated by the electric utilities.

    CHELSEA HENDERSON, RepublicEN: I think it was his only chess move, at that point.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Chelsea Henderson is with an organization called republicEn, conservatives who are seeking government action on climate change.

    CHELSEA HENDERSON: In the end, I would have liked to have seen him overreach earlier in the legislative process, rather than on the regulatory side.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Twenty-seven states took the Obama administration to court to try and stop the plan. Early last year, the Supreme Court ordered the EPA not to enforce it.

    JOHN HOLDREN: I think the president did the best he had with the tools he had, which were the tools of executive authority. I don’t think he exceeded the legal extent of those tools.

    But those are questions that will continue to be tested in the courts obviously, and some of them may be tested in the Congress.

    MILES O’BRIEN: And, of course, executive orders that can be enacted with the stroke of a presidential pen can be undone in similar fashion.

    But Mr. Obama’s defenders say changing existing rules was a more nimble tool than passing new laws.

    CAROL BROWNER: If we had waited to start the existing law, cars wouldn’t have gotten more efficient for at least another year or two. And, more importantly, the president wouldn’t have had the kind of efficiency standards, the proposal on power plants that then allowed us to go to Paris and really establish our leadership.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Paris, the site of a pivotal meeting of 195 nations that led to an agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions, limiting the increase in the global average temperature to two degrees Celsius or below, it is the first comprehensive climate agreement in history.

    JOHN HOLDREN: It happened only because the United States and China stood up together. President Obama and President Xi in Beijing in November 2014 stood up, said: We’re the two biggest economies, we’re the two biggest emitters. This is a huge problem. We are jointly going to lead.

    MILES O’BRIEN: U.S. participation in the Paris agreement cannot be quickly revoked. A withdrawal has to be announced three years in advance, and then it takes another year for it to become official. But the agreement is voluntary, with no teeth, besides global peer pressure. And there is a loophole.

    ROBERT STAVINS: If the Trump administration decided instead not just to remove itself from the Paris climate agreement, but from the overall U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change that goes back to 1992, ratified by the Senate, signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush, that takes only one-year delay.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Barack Obama leaves a climate legacy that is bold, yet fragile. History will likely remember him as the first climate president, but, in today’s political climate, that moniker could very quickly become a footnote.

    Miles O’Brien, the “PBS NewsHour,” Washington.

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    Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee as Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) listens during the second day of confirmation hearings on Senator Jeff Sessions' (R-AL) nomination to be U.S. attorney general in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX2YJKX

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But first, in the rest of the day’s news: This was the second and final day of the confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions, the Trump nominee to be attorney general. Black leaders have strongly criticized the Alabama senator.

    And, as William Brangham reports, their views got a full airing today.

    SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-N.J): I know it is exceptional for a senator to testify against another senator.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Jeff Sessions was not in the room to hear it, but his nomination drew a rare rebuke from a Senate colleague, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey.

    SEN. CORY BOOKER: He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won’t.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis also spoke against the nomination.

    REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-Ga.): It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you, but we need someone who’s going to stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people that need help, for people who have been discriminated against.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Three black officials who worked with Sessions in the past gave their support to the attorney general-designate.

    WILLIAM SMITH: Senator Sessions is unquestionably qualified for the job.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And a former attorney general, Michael Mukasey, came to his defense as well.

    MICHAEL MUKASEY, Former Attorney General: Principled, intelligent, knowledgeable, thorough, modest, and thoroughly dedicated to the rule of law and to the mission of the department, which is to enforce the law and to preserve our freedoms.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Sessions is ultimately expected to win easy confirmation in the Senate.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m William Brangham.

    STEVE INSKEEP: Amid the president’s Cabinet choices from outside Washington, there are some from well inside. His choice for transportation secretary is Elaine Chao. She served two previous presidents. And she testified today with her husband Mitch McConnell behind her. She spoke of using private money to build up public infrastructure.

    ELAINE CHAO, Secretary of Transportation-Designate: We all know that the government doesn’t have the resources to do it all. It’s also important to recognize that the way we build and deliver projects is just as important as how much we invest.

    STEVE INSKEEP: Now, Chao’s words hint at a potential political conflict. The president-elect says he wants big spending on roads and bridges and airports. Democrats do too, but some Republicans fought that spending when President Obama wanted it, and they don’t agree yet on how to pay for it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President-elect Trump also today announced his nominee for secretary of Veterans Affairs. David Shulkin is currently the department’s top health official, managing 1,700 facilities that treat nine million veterans.

    In a statement, Shulkin said he is eager to begin reforming a system plagued by long wait lines — times.

    STEVE INSKEEP: A federal judge today formally sentenced Dylann Roof to death for killing nine black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. A jury agreed on the sentence yesterday. Now, Roof stared straight ahead today as relatives of some of the victims said they forgive him, but one called his name and finally shouted in frustration, “I wish you would look at me, boy.”

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Afghanistan, the death toll climbed past 50 in Tuesday’s bombings in Kabul and Kandahar. Five diplomats from the United Arab Emirates died in the attack in Kandahar. The Persian Gulf state’s ambassador was among the wounded. The Taliban claimed the Kabul bombing, but there’s been no claim in the Kandahar incident.

    STEVE INSKEEP: In other news, Volkswagen agreed today to plead guilty to criminal charges. The company will also pay $4.3 billion in fines for cheating on emissions. It’s part of a plea bargain with the U.S. Justice Department. A grand jury has indicted six high-ranking V.W. employees for allegedly lying to regulators and destroying evidence, among other charges.

    Federal prosecutors say at least 40 people took part in the fraud and the cover-up.

    LORETTA LYNCH, Attorney General: This is a case that illustrates a company that at very high levels knew of this problem and deliberately chose to continue with this fraudulent behavior. And that’s one reason why the actions taken here are so severe and do devolve on individuals.

    STEVE INSKEEP: We should mention that Volkswagen already settled civil charges related to the emissions cheating for $15 billion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Eastern Europe is struggling to cope with a blast of bitter cold and heavy snow. Officials report at least 73 deaths in recent days. Temperatures have hit minus-14 in parts of the Balkans, the coldest in more than 50 years. And, in Greece, medical officials warned of inhuman conditions at migrant camps.

    Meanwhile, in Northern California, rescue crews used boats to reach stranded people after the heaviest rain in a decade. Thousands more have been urged to evacuate ahead of the floods.

    STEVE INSKEEP: And on Wall Street, oil prices went up, and so did stocks. For weeks now, people have been waiting for the Dow to climb over 20000. It hasn’t quite happened yet. It gained 98 points today to close at 19954. The Nasdaq rose 11 points, and the S&P 500 added six.

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    Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Rosneft Chief Executive Igor Sechin and Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson take part in a signing ceremony at a Rosneft refinery in the Black Sea town of Tuapse, Russia June 15, 2012. Sputnik/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. - RTX2UTIW

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    STEVE INSKEEP: The president-elect, as we have heard, took some questions about his relationship with Russia. And many more questions today went to his choice for secretary of state. Margaret Warner has been watching the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

    MARGARET WARNER: Rex Tillerson was nearly obscured by the mob of cameras as he settled in for the marathon session. Senators quickly focused on the topic of Russia.

    Did Tillerson, as chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, have too cozy a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

    Florida Republican Marco Rubio:

    SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-Fla.): Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?

    REX TILLERSON, Secretary of State-Designate: I wouldn’t use that term.

    SEN. MARCO RUBIO: In Aleppo, Mr. Putin has directed his military to conduct a devastating campaign. He’s targeted schools, markets. It’s resulted in the death of thousands of civilians. This is not the first time Mr. Putin is involved in campaigns of this kind.

    REX TILLERSON: Those are very, very serious charges to make, and I would want to have much more information before reaching a conclusion.


    REX TILLERSON: I would want to be fully informed before advising the president.

    SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, are you aware that people who oppose Vladimir Putin wind up dead all over the world, poisoned, shot in the back of the head? And do you think that was coincidental, or do you think that it is quite possible or likely, as I believe, that they were a part of an effort to murder his political opponents?

    REX TILLERSON: Well, people who speak up for freedom in regimes that are repressive are often at threat, and these things happen to them. In terms of assigning specific responsibilities, I would have to have more information.

    SEN. MARCO RUBIO: None of this is classified, Mr. Tillerson. These people are dead.

    MARGARET WARNER: Tillerson, at ExxonMobil, brokered multibillion-dollar deals with Russia, meeting with Putin multiple times. In 2013, he received the Order of Friendship award from Putin himself. But Tillerson today said he’d support continuing sanctions against Russia for now. He also implied his intimate knowledge of Russia meant he understood its strategy, and could anticipate its moves, to America’s benefit.

    REX TILLERSON: Do you want this to get worse? Or does Russia desire a different relationship? We’re not likely to ever be friends. But I also know the Russian people, because of having spent so many years in Russia. There is scope to define a different relationship that can bring down the temperature around the conflicts we have today.

    MARGARET WARNER: Outside the hearing and inside, protesters called on senators to reject the nominee for his big oil ties. Tillerson promised to recuse himself for a year from any decisions that would affect ExxonMobil.

    REX TILLERSON: My love of country and my patriotism is going to dictate that I serve no one’s interests but that of the American people in advancing our own national security.

    MARGARET WARNER: Climate change was also at issue. As candidate, president-elect Trump called it a hoax, and promised to pull out of the new Paris agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.

    At Exxon, Tillerson did oversee the company’s shift from vigorously denying climate change to acknowledging it. Today, he did the same, with a caveat.

    REX TILLERSON: I came to the conclusion a few years ago that the risk of climate change does exist.

    SEN. BOB CORKER (R-Tenn.): You believe that human activity, based on your belief and the science, is contributing to climate change?

    REX TILLERSON: The increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.

    MARGARET WARNER: At steps along the way, Tillerson showed he diverges with Mr. Trump, as here on NATO’s response following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

    SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-Md.): So, your recommendation would have been to do a more robust supply of military?

    REX TILLERSON: Yes, sir. what — I think what Russian leadership would have understood is a powerful response that indicated a, yes, you took the Crimea, but this stops right here.

    SEN. BEN CARDIN: And that’s encouraging to me to hear you say that, because it’s not exactly consistent with what Mr. Trump has been saying.

    MARGARET WARNER: Tillerson said if Russia invaded a NATO ally, he’d support an alliance response under Article V.

    He had some tough words on China, too, equating its island-building in the South China Sea with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Mr. Trump’s penchant for announcing policy on Twitter also came up.

    REP. TODD YOUNG (R-Ind.): So, how do you finesse this? How would you ensure the legs are not cut out from underneath you as the nation’s chief diplomat?

    REX TILLERSON: Well, if confirmed, and I am able to serve this president-elect, I don’t think I’m going to be telling the boss how he ought to communicate with American people. That’s going to be his choice.

    REP. TODD YOUNG: Do you have in mind any contingency plans to address…

    REX TILLERSON: Yes, I have his cell phone number.


    REX TILLERSON: And he’s promised me he will answer.

    MARGARET WARNER: Tillerson’s confirmation hearing is set to continue tomorrow morning.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Margaret Warner.

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    Vice President-elect Mike Pence (L) is seen in the background as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Trump Tower, Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton - RTX2YIQQ

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president-elect made news on a number of other fronts today.

    Our John Yang was in the room this morning, and he joins us now from Trump Tower.

    So, John, as we said before, it’s been a long time since Mr. Trump had had a news conference, almost six months. Before you tell us what more he said, give us a sense of the room, the scene.

    JOHN YANG: It was in the lobby here of Trump Tower, the pink marble lobby of the tower.

    It was standing room only. Two hours before the session began, all the seats had already been claimed, reporters, photographers, camera crews from all around the globe. And it was if there was a pent-up demand to ask questions of the president-elect.

    And Mr. Trump didn’t disappoint. In addition to all the big headlines that you have already talked about, he made news on some other fronts, on Obamacare, for example. He said he wants to move quickly to repeal and replace at the same time, even though some key lawmakers of his own party say that may be hard to do.

    He says he’s going to unveil his own proposal as a replacement as soon as Representative Tom Price is confirmed as his health and human services secretary.

    DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: So, the easiest thing would be to let it implode in ’17. And, believe me, we’d get pretty much whatever we wanted. But it would take a long time.

    We’re going to be submitting, as soon as our secretary is approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan. It will be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously. It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably the same day.

    JOHN YANG: Now, that Price nomination has run into some headwinds over questions about his selling and trading health care-related stocks while he sits on the Ways and Means Committee. Some Democrats say they want to know if he profited from insider information.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, another area where he made news had to do with filling that vacancy on the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia almost a year ago, during which time Republicans didn’t go along with President Obama’s nominee.

    JOHN YANG: That’s right.

    And folks may remember that, in September, during the campaign, Mr. Trump released a list of 21 possible nominees. He said today that he’s already begun interviewing some of those candidates, and he said he will make his nomination to fill the court vacancy within two weeks after he’s inaugurated.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: John, he also spoke about the issue that really helped launch his campaign, building the border wall with Mexico.

    JOHN YANG: That’s right, that signature issue of the campaign.

    He said that Mexico is going to pay for it one way or another. He said he doesn’t want to wait and negotiate with Mexico about how they’re going to pick up the tab. He said he wants to start building right away. And Vice President Mike Pence is in charge of making that happen.

    And then, he says, he will negotiate with Mexico on picking up the tab.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, John, he and his press spokesman had plenty to say about the press, about — in the wake of the story today about the Russian intel report on him.

    JOHN YANG: That’s right, Judy. It wouldn’t be a Trump press conference without a little press bashing.

    Interestingly enough, he started out by saying how glad he was to be there holding a press conference. He sounded almost nostalgic for news conferences. He even credited news conferences for winning the nomination for him.

    But then things turned tense later in the session when he refused to take a question from Jim Acosta of CNN. CNN has been reporting very aggressively on this allegation that Russia has compromising information about the president-elect.

    DONALD TRUMP: CNN going out of their way to build it up, it’s a disgrace.

    JIM ACOSTA, CNN: Sir, since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question? Mr. President-elect…

    DONALD TRUMP: Go ahead. Go ahead.

    JIM ACOSTA: Mr. President-elect, since you are attacking our news organization…

    DONALD TRUMP: No, not you.

    JIM ACOSTA: … can you give us a chance?

    DONALD TRUMP: Your organization is terrible.

    JIM ACOSTA: You are attacking our news organization.

    DONALD TRUMP: Your organization is terrible.

    JIM ACOSTA: Can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir? Sir, can you…

    DONALD TRUMP: Go ahead.

    Quiet. Quiet.

    JIM ACOSTA: Mr. President-elect, can you say…


    DONALD TRUMP: She’s asking a question. Don’t be rude. Don’t be rude.

    JIM ACOSTA: Can you give us a question since you’re attacking us? Can you give us a question?

    DONALD TRUMP: Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question.

    JIM ACOSTA: Can you state…

    DONALD TRUMP: You are fake news. Go ahead.

    JIM ACOSTA: Sir, can you…

    JOHN YANG: Since then, CNN has pointed out that they have refrained from reporting on the details of the alleged dossier, unlike BuzzFeed, because CNN hasn’t been able to independently verify any of the information.

    But, in any case, Judy, it looks lie it’s going to be an interesting four years in the White House Briefing Room.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right, John. The president-elect had strong words for both BuzzFeed and CNN.

    John Yang reporting from just outside Trump Tower, thank you.

    The post In heated news conference, Trump talks health care, Russia rumors appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (C) stands surrounded by his son Eric Trump (L) daughter Ivanka and son Donald Trump Jr. (R) ahead of a press conference in Trump Tower, Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2YINO

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    STEVE INSKEEP: Now, during his press conference, the president-elect said something that no president-elect may have said before. He said he had just turned down a multibillion-dollar business deal.

    DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: Over the weekend, I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer from the Middle East, Hussain Damac, a friend of mine, great guy. And I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai, a number of deals. And I turned it down.

    STEVE INSKEEP: Now, $2 billion, his friend Hussain Damac was apparently a man with a different last name, who runs a company called DAMAC Group.

    But, nevertheless, the talk of a deal in a key Persian Gulf nation, days before he moves into the White House, suggests the clash between the president’s duties and his worldwide business. The president-elect says he has a plan to manage those conflicts, which we’re going to evaluate this evening.

    That plan includes turning the business over to his two older sons, plus a business executive. His sons aren’t supposed to tell him what they’re doing. And the president-elect will step back from management, but remain the owner of Trump Organization, and the company will avoid new overseas business deals.

    Mr. Trump said he’s doing this, even though the law would allow him to keep making deals as president.

    DONALD TRUMP: I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to. I would be the only one that would be able to do that. You can’t do that in any other capacity. But, as a president, I could run the Trump Organization, great, great company, and I could run the company — the country. I would do a very good job, but I don’t want to do that.

    STEVE INSKEEP: The president-elect is correct that a federal conflict of interest law excludes the president, but what about all the other issues?

    We have brought in two lawyers who managed ethics issues for two presidents. Richard Painter did it for President George W. Bush. Norm Eisen did it for President Obama.

    And, Mr. Eisen, let’s start with you.

    The president-elect suggests he is going above and beyond. Is he?

    NORMAN EISEN, Former Special Counsel to President Obama: No.

    He’s going beneath and below the minimum floor that’s required by law, that’s required by our most fundamental law, the Constitution, that is established by what every president for four decades has done, that ethics require and that common sense requires, Steve.

    This was a sad day. I wasn’t happy to see what happened here. But what the president has announced fails every aspect of the bipartisan consensus that has emerged on what he should do, and it’s going to lead to scandal and corruption and a constitutional crisis from the moment he’s sworn in.

    STEVE INSKEEP: OK, you mentioned the law. You mentioned common sense. Let’s talk about common sense here a little bit here, Richard Painter. We will get to the law.

    What is wrong with turning over management of the company to his sons, who it is said will act independently of him?

    RICHARD PAINTER, Former Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush: Well, he will still own the company.

    And the problem is the company, the Trump Organization, has business deals all over the world. And some may be getting turned down, although some might get accepted. There are already deals in place. There are deals with powerful politicians in Indonesia, with oligarchs in the Philippines, deals in Turkey.

    I mean, these are parts of the world where there’s very important issues to be dealt with on behalf of the United States and strategic concerns. We can’t have the president have substantial economic exposure himself in these countries and business partners who may be in league with foreign governments.

    This is an enormous conflict of interests. We also have the president of the president’s name being on buildings around the world in places where it’s questionable whether these other countries can protect those buildings. We don’t have the Obama Tower in downtown Paris or Nairobi or some place. And we couldn’t protect it.

    And then we put the Trump name up. That’s going to be jeopardizing the lives of the people who live in those buildings and could drag the United States into a conflict. That’s only the beginnings of the problems.

    We have potential mixing Trump business with United States government business. And that would trigger a bribery investigation. And then we, of course, have those payments coming in from foreign governments and companies controlled by foreign governments that violate the Constitution, unless they sweep all of those out of the Trump Organization as of January 20. And they don’t have the time to do it.

    STEVE INSKEEP: You mentioned also the Constitution, and I definitely want to get to that, but let’s just refer to something else that Norm Eisen mentioned.

    Norm Eisen said that this arrangement violates the bipartisan consensus about ethics for the president of the United States in recent decades. The president-elect, however, brought out a lawyer — Sheri Dillon is her name — at this press conference, and she dismissed some of the more conventional solutions.

    Let’s watch.

    SHERI DILLON, Attorney for Donald Trump: Some people have suggested a blind trust, but you cannot have a totally blind trust with operating businesses. President Trump can’t un-know he owns Trump Tower. And the press will make sure that any new developments at the Trump Organization are well publicized.

    Further, it would be impossible to find an institutional trustee that would be competent to run the Trump Organization. The approach he is taking allows Don and Eric to preserve this great company and its iconic assets.

    STEVE INSKEEP: Norm Eisen, I have actually heard this from a lot of people, who said, blind trust, how can that be possible, because his assets are so visible? His name is on buildings. The name itself is the asset. Is she right that a blind trust isn’t going to work?

    NORMAN EISEN: No, she’s wrong on all three of those points.

    On the first point, if it’s a problem that he would still know things in a blind trust, how much more of a problem is it now, where he has this completely unprecedented continuing ownership interest, and very weak protections that were outlined today for communications between and among his sons? Does anybody really believe that they’re not going to be talking about the business?

    Then, number two, it actually would be simple to do this. All Trump needs to do — this is not complicated — find an independent professional trustee. There are plenty out there who have dealt with far more complications. This is — the Trump Organization is just a big international family business.

    Trump signs it over. This is what we hoped in a bipartisan way and prayed would happen today. He signs it over to the trustee. The trustee figures out, what can I sell? How do I sell it? What can I borrow? Maybe I do a public equity, so if it’s not sold on the market, the executives buy it, package the less-indebted properties with the more-indebted properties.

    Donald Trump has enough to worry about without thinking about that. And then, on the third point of destroying the business, the Donald Trump name is at an all-time high. This is the best time to make these moves. When the corruptions and the scandals start to flow, it’s going to be much harder.

    But he is going to have to do it, because those negative consequences are sure to follow.

    STEVE INSKEEP: OK, just very briefly here now, the law. You mentioned the law. You mentioned the Constitution.

    You have said that the president would violate the Constitution if he continues on this course. The Emoluments Clause is what you’re talking about. It prohibits gifts from a foreign government. But the president-elect’s lawyer says nobody has defined a gift before for that purpose. And she says the president doing business is not a gift.

    SHERI DILLON: No one would have thought, when the Constitution was written, that paying your hotel bill was an emolument. Instead, it would have been thought of as a value-for-value exchange, not a gift, not a title, and not an emolument.

    But since president-elect Trump has been elected, some people want to define emoluments to cover routine business transactions like paying for hotel rooms. They suggest that the Constitution prohibits the businesses from even arm’s-length transactions that the president-elect has absolutely nothing to do with and isn’t even aware of.

    These people are wrong. This is not what the Constitution says. Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present, and it has nothing to do with an office. It’s not an emolument.

    STEVE INSKEEP: Richard Painter, what’s wrong with that logic? It’s routine business.

    RICHARD PAINTER: This is a for-profit hotel. He is making profits over dealing with foreign governments. Same with the loans from foreign government-owned banks. Those are for a for-profit business. That is prohibited under the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

    Now, she’s right on one point, that you can’t take the Trump Tower, put it in a trust, and pretend you don’t have it. Of course, the trustee will have to sell the Trump Tower. He needs to make a decision, does he wants to be president, or does he want to be a landlord and a hotel owner?

    He has nine days to make that decision. I thought he’d already made it. But that’s what this is about. He just doesn’t want to give up the hotel. He doesn’t want to give Trump Tower to his son or sell it.

    And it is not that difficult to sell a nice building like that on Fifth Avenue.

    STEVE INSKEEP: Norm Eisen, very briefly, can the president-elect resolve some of these concerns just by being a lot more transparent about who is paying what for what?

    NORMAN EISEN: Well, Professor Painter and I laid out yesterday a scorecard of five criteria.

    And one of them was to have strong ethics provisions with strong transparency around them, an ethics firewall. But we made the point that alone is not enough. He is going to be — as Professor Painter says, emoluments covers all of the different benefits that he’s getting, loans, permits, trademarks, other things outside the hotel, selling apartments to foreign government agents and sovereigns.

    He’s going to be in violation of the Constitution on day one, and no amount of transparency can cure that offense against our founding document.

    STEVE INSKEEP: Could they solve some of this problem by releasing the president-elect’s tax return?

    NORMAN EISEN: It’s critical that the tax returns come out, particularly today, when there’s been so much talk about Russia, Steve.

    Professor Painter and I wrote during the campaign that there’s an enormous amount of information about foreign governments, gifts, payments, partnerships, even business expenses, possibly, in deductions taken.

    Given the nature of the Russia allegations, we need to see that. And Richard and I said today that all Russia-related aspects of the tax returns should be released. And the Intelligence Committees should get the full tax returns to put these Russia allegations to bed.

    STEVE INSKEEP: Norm Eisen was the top ethics lawyer for President Obama. Richard Painter was the top ethics lawyers for President George W. Bush.

    Gentlemen, thanks to you both.

    NORMAN EISEN: Thanks, Steve.

    RICHARD PAINTER: Thank you.

    The post Is Trump’s plan for his company enough to avoid conflicts of interest? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    FILE PHOTO: Painted Matryoshka dolls, or Russian nesting dolls, bearing the faces of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed for sale at a souvenir shop in central Moscow, Russia November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. - RTX2YFZR

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. We are having some guests join me here at the “NewsHour” anchor desk in the coming weeks. Tonight, it’s Steve Inskeep, who many of you recognize from NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Welcome, Steve.

    STEVE INSKEEP: I’m delighted to be here. It’s an honor. Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re so glad to have you.

    And we are devoting much of tonight’s program to our lead story, and that is the Donald Trump news conference today.

    It came amid a swirl of stories about the president-elect and Russia.

    DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: At his first news conference since the election, Donald Trump flatly denied the Russians have any compromising information on him.

    DONALD TRUMP: But it should never have been released, but I read what was released. And I think it’s a disgrace. I think it’s an absolute disgrace.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The bombshell burst Tuesday evening, when CNN reported the president-elect and President Obama were briefed on the matter last week. The report included unsubstantiated claims that Russian intelligence compiled a dossier on Mr. Trump during visits to Moscow.

    The Web site BuzzFeed then published a 35-page cache of memos from the alleged dossier, including a claim of sexual activity caught on a Moscow hotel room surveillance camera. The New York Times and other major news organizations said they had been aware of the information for months, but could not verify the claims.

    Today, Mr. Trump insisted he wouldn’t put himself in such a position.

    DONALD TRUMP: I told many people, be careful, because you don’t want to see yourself on television. There are cameras all over the place, and, again, not just Russia, all over.

    Does anyone really believe that story? I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: From there, the president-elect lit into the news media again. He condemned BuzzFeed.

    DONALD TRUMP: It’s a failing pile of garbage writing it. I think they’re going to suffer the consequences.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And he accused CNN of being fake news, and brushed off persistent attempts by its correspondent to ask a question.

    Later, CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, defended its reporting, and BuzzFeed said it published what it called a newsworthy document.

    As for the leak itself:

    DONALD TRUMP: I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that. And that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done, and did do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On Russian hacking more broadly, the president-elect suggested an upside to the probing of Democratic Party computers and e-mails.

    DONALD TRUMP: The hacking is bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked. Look at what was learned from that hacking, that Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Likewise, he acknowledged the intelligence verdict that President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking, but he didn’t leave it there.

    DONALD TRUMP: I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And looking ahead, Mr. Trump suggested the hacking will not necessarily hinder future cooperation with Putin.

    DONALD TRUMP: If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability. Now, Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading it than when other people have led it. You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe he will be doing it more.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There were also questions about the Trump Organization’s business ties to Russia, and he denied there are any.

    DONALD TRUMP: We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to. I just don’t want to, because I think that would be a conflict. So I have no loans, no dealings and no current pending deals.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Trump has not released tax returns to verify his claims, and he said again he won’t do so until a federal audit is finished.

    He also declined to say whether his associates or campaign staff had contact with Russian officials during the campaign. An ABC reporter tweeted later that the president-elect denied any such contact after the news conference ended.

    We take a closer look at Russia, the president-elect, and these latest revelations with former attorney at the National Security Agency Susan Hennessey. She is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution and is managing editor for the Web site Lawfare about the intersection of the law and national security. And John Sipher, he served almost 30 years at the CIA, both in the agency’s clandestine service and executive ranks. He was stationed in Moscow in the 1990s and he ran the CIA’s Russia program for three years. He’s now at CrossLead, a consulting firm.

    And welcome to both of you.

    So let’s start, Susan Hennessey, but I just want to ask both of you in brief, what do you make of this report?

    SUSAN HENNESSEY, Former NSA Lawyer: Right.

    So, for the moment, the real story is the allegations themselves are unverified. They’re obviously quite salacious in nature. The real story is that the intelligence community thought it was appropriate to brief the president of the United States and the president-elect.

    That means that serious people are taking this seriously. That’s different than saying that the intelligence community believes the allegations or has substantiated them. But this is a matter that is not just simply a matter of fake news or something that we should disregard.

    It clearly passes some degree of preliminary credibility.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: John Sipher, your take?

    JOHN SIPHER, Former CIA Officer: I think the question is, is this real?

    And there are things on the positive side and the negative side on that. On the positive side, for those of us who have lived and worked and worked in Russia and against the Russians, it does feel right. It does feel like the kind of thing that Russians do. A lot of those details fit.

    Also, I think, the author has some credibility, which is on the positive side.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the former British intelligence officer.

    JOHN SIPHER: That’s right. Yes.

    On the negative side, it really is hard to make a distinction if we don’t know who those sources are. He talks about his sources providing various information. In the CIA, before we would put out a report like that, an intelligence report, there could be, you know, hundreds of pages of information on that person’s access, on their suitability, on their personality.

    We don’t have that. And, secondly, the fact that a lot of this reporting is the presidential administration in Russia and the Kremlin is a little bit worrying, because, I mean, that’s essentially a hard nut to crack. And U.S. intelligence agencies have been trying to do that for years, and the fact that he has this much data about them does put it into question a little bit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Hennessey, let’s talk about your organization, Lawfare.

    You had a copy of this, what, several weeks ago. And you started looking into it, decided not to put it out, but you did look into it. How did you go about figuring out or trying to figure out what’s real and what isn’t here?


    So, the document was shared with us to — so that we could provide some professional input as to whether or not it was credible. As we were satisfied that the relevant government entities were aware of the documents, and then like everybody else, we attempted to talk to people in various communities to see whether or not the allegations seemed credible to them.

    I think the point that we’re at now, it’s really not about our organization or anyone else verifying the specific facts. The FBI is conducting an investigation. We will expect — there are very specific allegations in this document. Those allegations can either be proven true or proven false.

    And so we should expect some answers that provide some additional clarity. One important note is just because a single fact in the document is true, it doesn’t mean the rest of the document is true. And just because a single fact in the document is false, that doesn’t mean the rest of the document is false.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That the entire thing is false.

    Well, John Sipher, let’s go back to what you said a minute ago. You said there are parts of this that are credible, and you said it’s the way the Russians operate. What did you mean by that?

    JOHN SIPHER: It must look odd to views or anybody who has read this thing. It’s such a different world.

    But Russia is a police state. Russia has been a police state for much of its history. And this is the way they often do business. They collect blackmail on people. When I lived there, we had audio and video in our houses. We were followed all the time. Restaurants and places, hotels like this are — have video and audio in them. They collect this.

    They do psychological profiling of people to try to see who might be sources for them. This is just the way the Russians operate. So when you read this, it smacks of the kind of thing that we would believe is credible. That doesn’t mean it is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The methods.

    JOHN SIPHER: Right, the methods, right, and the — right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you went on to say that the precise details in here are not borne out, are not verified by any individuals outside of this report, the British — the British office.

    JOHN SIPHER: Right.

    And in that sense, it’s difficult because of the hyperpartisan atmosphere here. The fact that this is now in the public is going to spin up on the salacious details and these type of things, whereas I think the FBI does have a lot of experience doing very sensitive investigations like this, working with partners overseas and others to try to put this together, because there are a lot of details that we as citizens can’t follow up on.

    Did people travel during those certain days? Who are these people? And that’s the kind of stuff that we just can’t do, and the FBI can and will.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For example, Susan Hennessey, there’s a reference in here to an attempt to get the FISA court, the court that has to OK investigations, surveillance of individuals, permission for them to look at four different people who were working for the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization. How unusual would something like that be?

    SUSAN HENNESSEY: So, certainly, it’s highly unusual in the context of a political campaign or a presidential election.

    That said, there is news reports that perhaps there were additional attempts to secure a FISA warrant, and that the FBI reportedly obtained one in October. If the allegations in the documents are true, are accurate, those are the kinds of things that would fall within FISA.

    That’s the type of warrant that the government would pursue. That said, just like everything else, we’re a step away from actually verifying the substance of that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Verifying.

    John Sipher, if you’re in charge of the investigation to figure out what is and what isn’t right, if anything is accurate in here, what do you need to do now?

    JOHN SIPHER: What you need to do is take each piece of this document and run it to ground.

    So, you need to find out — they talk — the issue here is not the salacious details, the blackmail piece. The issue here is the criminal behavior if people in the Trump campaign were working with Russian intelligence to collect information on Americans.

    If that’s the case, there’s a lot of detail in there that needs to be verified. And we have to find out, did the people travel on the days they said they traveled, those type of things? So, there are a lot of things to run down that you can run down with your partners and information that you can collect as part of an investigation in U.S. travel records, all these type of things.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Hennessey, what would you add to that? If you were involved in trying to determine if any parts of this are accurate or to verify that they’re not accurate, how would do you that?


    So, certainly, the FBI is going to be calling on all of their resources to investigate the specific allegations, things like travel records, things like financial documents. They’re also going to need to draw on intelligence sources. And so there are specific sort of comments about meetings between Putin and others, very sort of high-level, high-value intelligence targets.

    They would really need to reach very deeply into their intelligence networks and the networks of allied intelligence agencies in order to see if anything to lend credibility or substantiate these very serious allegations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: John Sipher, we saw that Senator John McCain had a role, the Republican senator, of course, from Arizona, had a role in this. How did he come into this, and does that tell us anything?

    JOHN SIPHER: Well, Senator McCain, obviously, has a lot of experience working with the government on sensitive things and has always been a hawk on Russia issues. And I’m supportive of that. I think he’s been good in that case.

    My understanding is the author of this himself provided information, this information to get to the FBI, through Mr. McCain, who got the information through the FBI.

    And, obviously, other news places had it. What’s interesting is President Trump, President-elect  Trump seems to think that the intelligence agencies themselves leaked this information, whereas it doesn’t seem to me that that’s the case.

    The fact that you and others have had this for so long and actually held off on putting it suggests to me that this information has been out there for a while, and I think that’s why General Clapper and others briefed the president-elect on this last Friday.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you add to that?

    SUSAN HENNESSEY: So, I think this is an incredibly important point.

    So, when President-elect Trump today seemed to suggest that he believes the intelligence community leaked this, saying it would be a blot if they had done so, there’s absolutely no indication that the intelligence community is the source of the documents.

    BuzzFeed, the organization that published this document, this is actually not even an intelligence community document. It is a private company. It’s not even classified material. And so a little bit, there is a suspicion that once again Donald Trump is using his personal attacks on the intelligence community a little bit to divert attention away from the substance of the allegations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly to both of you, how confident are you that we’re going to know eventually whether this is — whether any of this is accurate?

    JOHN SIPHER: I have confidence.

    Yes, I have confidence that the FBI is going to follow this through. My nervousness is that these kind of things are going to dribble and drabble out for the next several years and cause a real problem for this administration going forward.

    SUSAN HENNESSEY: Because this is so important to the credibility of the president, we would really want to see him establish some kind of independent commission or council in order to really get to the bottom of these facts and provide some reassurance to the American people, not only that this is being investigated, but also that President-elect Trump himself is taking this matter very seriously.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Hennessey, John Sipher, we thank you both.

    JOHN SIPHER: Thank you.

    The post How credible are reports that Russia has compromising information about Trump? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The confirmation hearing for retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense, is set for Thursday, Jan. 12. PBS NewsHour will live stream the hearing at 9:30 a.m. ET.

    The confirmation hearing for retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense, is set for Thursday.

    Mattis is a four-star military officer who distinguished himself in combat in the country’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some critics say he falls short of the diplomatic experience expected for the position.

    Michael Gordon of The New York Times called Mattis an “unconventional choice” for the position, partly because the general retired as chief of Central Command in 2013, leaving about a three-year gap in military service.

    READ MORE: A guide to this week’s confirmation hearings: Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson and more

    The post WATCH LIVE: James Mattis confirmation hearing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The confirmation hearing for Rep. Mike Pompeo, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director, is set for Thursday, Jan. 12. PBS NewsHour will live stream the hearing at 10:00 a.m. ET.

    Pompeo, a third-term Republican congressman from Kansas, will appear before a Senate Committee on Thursday as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director.

    Pompeo was elected to Congress in 2010 and served on the House Select Benghazi Committee that investigated the 2012 attack that led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. He has also been a vocal opponent of the Iran nuclear deal and favors reinstating the bulk collection program started by the National Security Agency.

    READ MORE: A guide to this week’s confirmation hearings: Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson and more

    The post WATCH LIVE: Rep. Mike Pompeo confirmation hearing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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