x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 November 2017

Trump turned down Dh7.3bn Damac deal ‘to avoid conflict of interest’

In the president-elect's first press conference since being elected he said his business would be put into a trust run by sons Don and Eric and that there would be no new foreign deals for the duration of his presidency, reports Rob Crilly

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on January 11, 2017. Evan Vucci/AP Photo
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on January 11, 2017. Evan Vucci/AP Photo
New York // Donald Trump on Wednesday launched a blistering attack on American intelligence agencies which he accused of allowing the release of documents containing unverified allegations that Russian agents had compromising information about the president-elect.

He compared their activities with those of Nazi Germany, reopening an unprecedented row with the very agencies he will have to rely on for security when he takes office next Friday.

His first news conference in 167 days was dominated by questions about the controversial memo that suggested Russian intelligence services had obtained details of his sexual activities during a visit to Moscow in 2013.

Pages of the scandalous memo have circulated among US journalists for the past six months but were published by Buzzfeed News on Tuesday evening for the first time.

Mr Trump launched a blistering attack on those media organisations that had published the unverified details, calling it “fake news” before pointing the finger firmly at US intelligence officials.

“It was disgraceful, disgraceful of the intelligence agencies allow out any information that turned out to be so false and fake,” he said. “I think it’s a disgrace.

“And I say that … and I say that it is something that Nazi Germany would have done.”

The allegations, whether true or false, will reinforce concerns that Mr Trump has failed to recognise the danger posed by Russia and its intelligence services in destabilising the US as he attempts to forge closer relations with Moscow.

He conceded on Wednesday that Russia was behind the cyber attack on the Democratic campaign and said he expected an investigation into the hacking to be completed in 90 days.

He also used his platform at Trump Tower in New York to announce that his business would be put in a trust to be run by his sons Don and Eric, and that there would be no new foreign deals for the duration of his presidency.

Mr Trump added that he understood the dangers of a conflict of interest and had rejected a potential deal with Hussein Sajwani, the Damac chairman, whom he described as a good friend.

“Over the weekend, I was offered US$2 billion (Dh7.3bn) to do a deal in Dubai ... a number of deals. And I turned it down,” he said.

A Damac spokesman told Reuters “the discussions took place ... but the proposals were declined”.

The Trump organisation and the property developer are partners in two golf-related developments as part of Damac’s Akoya scheme in Dubai.

The moves to separate himself from his business will reassure some critics of Mr Trump, although it still falls short of a full divestment of his business affairs. And he once again said he would not be releasing his tax returns while they remained under audit.

However, it was the latest intelligence scandal that dominated the run-up to the news conference.

Officials said details of the claims were included in a dossier given to Mr Trump during an intelligence briefing last week.

The FBI is still investigating the credibility of the allegations but their emergence is the latest example of the deep concerns surrounding the president-elect, and his ties to Russia, as he prepares to be sworn in next week.

The dossier on Mr Trump was compiled by a former British intelligence operative – first working for Republican opponents of the property developer and then for Democrats, according to CNN.

The new information alleged contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Moscow. It also suggested Russian intelligence agents had obtained video from a hotel room used by Mr Trump in Moscow.

None of the details have been verified but American officials said the operative had produced credible intelligence in the past.

Mr Trump said it was impossible for him to be caught in a compromising situation.

“I’m extremely careful,” he said. “I’m surrounded by bodyguards, I’m surrounded by people. And I always tell them when I’m leaving the country to be very careful because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you are probably going to have cameras.”

And he once again said he should not be criticised for seeking closer relations with Moscow and president Vladimir Putin.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump I consider that an asset, not a liability because we have a horrible relationship with Russia,” he said.

In his opening remarks he also rattled through a string of economic projects: bringing down drugs prices, attracting car factories to the US and tackling overspending and delays on the F-35 project.

“We’re going to have some competition and it’s going to be a beautiful thing,” he said.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae