NEW YORK – President-elect Donald Trump and his Cabinet picks are preparing to face public questioning over their business conflicts, their approach to Russia and other issues during a crucial week that will including a slew of confirmation hearings and Trump’s first news conference in nearly six months.
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Trump is less than two weeks away from taking office, but has yet to lay out how he intends to disengage himself from his global business interests. Questions also remain about whether the president-elect will accept the conclusion of U.S. intelligence officials that Russia meddled in the U.S. election to help him win the White House. Aides say he’ll decide how to respond to their efforts after his inauguration.
Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said Sunday that Trump indeed has accepted that Russia was responsible for the hacking, which targeted the Democratic National Committee and a top aide to former rival Hillary Clinton.
“He’s not denying that entities in Russia were behind this particular campaign,” Priebus said in an appearance on a Sunday television news show.
Intelligence officials allege that Moscow directed a series of hacks in order to help Trump win the White House in the race against Clinton. Trump has expressed skepticism about Russia’s role and declined to say whether he agrees that the meddling was done on his behalf. He’s also said improving relations with Russia would be a good thing and that only “stupid” people would disagree.
“My suspicion is these hopes will be dashed pretty quickly,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “The Russians are clearly a big adversary. And they demonstrated it by trying to mess around in our election.”
An unclassified version of a report presented to Trump last week directly tied Russian President Vladimir Putin to election meddling and said that Moscow had a “clear preference” for Trump over Clinton. Trump and his allies have bristled at any implication that the meddling helped him win the election. He won the Electoral College vote with 306 votes, well over the 270 votes required to become president.
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The comments come ahead of a consequential week for Trump and his Cabinet picks.
Beginning Tuesday, the Senate will hold its first confirmation hearings. Senators will scrutinize one of their own, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, who’s been nominated to be attorney general, and also will have a hearing on Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s choice for homeland security secretary.
But Democrats complain the schedule is rushed. The government ethics office says it hasn’t received even draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees set to appear before Congress this week. Many are wealthy businessmen who have never held public office.
Trump’s nominees, meanwhile, have been going through extensive preparation in the days leading up to the hearings. Transition officials said Sunday they’ve spent more than 70 hours participating in full-blown mock hearings, with volunteers playing the role of senators asking questions.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Trump is scheduled to hold a long-delayed news conference in New York – his first since July. Among the topic he’s expected to address: what will happen to his global business empire while he serves as president.
Trump has pledged to step away from the Trump Organization during his time in office, but has yet to say specifically how he will do that.
Kellman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Vivian Salama in Washington contributed to this report.