Vladimir Putin says claims about Russian involvement in US elections are untrue and that the United States actively interferes with elections in other countries. The Russian president has also dismissed as “a load of nonsense” the idea that Russia has damaging information on US President Donald Trump.
“I never met with him. We have a lot of Americans who visit us,” Mr Putin said in an interview with US television network NBC’s Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly. He added: “Do you think we’re gathering compromising information on all of them right now or something? Are you all – have you all lost your senses over there?” US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia meddled in the presidential election to hurt the bid of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Mr Trump himself has been dogged by questions about any business dealings with Russia as well as reports of a Russian dossier of damaging personal information. Mr Trump denies the claims. “Well, this is just another load of nonsense,” Mr Putin said. “Where would we get this information from? Why, did we have some special relationship with him? We didn’t have any relationship at all.”
Mr Putin again denied any Russian involvement in the US presidential election and any knowledge of Russian contacts with the Trump campaign. A special counsel appointed by the Justice Department and congressional committees are investigating. Former FBI director James Comey, who was fired by Mr Trump fired after allegedly asking him to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his Russian contacts, is scheduled to give evidence on Thursday before the Senate’s intelligence committee.
In the NBC interview, Mr Putin was asked about reports of Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s attempt to set up a secret communications channel with Russia. Mr Putin said he knew nothing about it and that he had not discussed with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak any meeting with Mr Kushner. “Had there been anything significant he would have reported it to the minister. The minister would have reported it to me,” Mr Putin said.
“There weren’t even any reports. There’s nothing to even talk about. There wasn’t even any kind of specific discussion about sanctions or anything else. For me, this is just amazing. You created a sensation out of nothing.” Mr Putin suggested that skilled hackers anywhere, including the US, could shift the blame for hacking onto Russia. He also alleged that the US actively interferes with electoral campaigns of other countries.
“Put your finger anywhere on a map of the world, and everywhere you will hear complaints that American officials are interfering in internal electoral processes,” he said. Mr Putin said the US intelligence agencies had been misled over their findings. As the Senate prepared for Mr Comey’s appearance, Mr Trump appeared unlikely to try to block him from giving evidence. The public hearing is expected to shed light on his private conversations with Mr Trump in the weeks before his dismissal, including any discussion about the Flynn investigation.
There has been no final decision as to whether Mr Trump would invoke executive privilege, and the matter remains under discussion, according to two administration officials. Mr Trump is known to change his mind on major issues. On Sunday, legislators from both parties urged Mr Trump not to stand in the way of Mr Comey’s evidence.
“Clearly, it would be very, very troubling if the president of the United States is interfering in investigations that affect potentially the president and his closest associates,” said senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.
Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican member of the intelligence committee, said Mr Comey’s evidence would be critical to address mounting questions about possible obstruction of justice. The Senate intelligence committee has also invited the top spy of the US and law enforcement officials to give evidence on Wednesday at a hearing about the federal law governing foreign intelligence collection.
Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein are also expected to give evidence. For Thursday’s hearing, Mr Trump could invoke executive privilege by arguing that discussions with Mr Comey pertained to national security and that he had an expectation of privacy in getting candid advice from top aides. But legal experts say Mr Trump most likely undermined those arguments because he publicly discussed the conversations in tweets and interviews.
Mr Trump’s argument in favour of privilege may also be overcome because the investigation is focused on corruption and possible obstruction of justice.