WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin said he has no knowledge of a reported pre-inauguration proposal by US President Donald Trump’s son in law and top aide Jared Kushner to set up a secret, bug-proof communications channel with the Kremlin, and dismissed as “a load of nonsense” the idea that Russia has damaging information on President Donald Trump.
In an interview aired Sunday on NBC, Putin again flatly denied US intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia meddled via hacking and other means in the US election to help Trump win. He said there may have been non-Russian hackers from anywhere that simply blamed Russia.
This charge — and even more damning suggestions that the Trump administration actually colluded in such an effort — are at the core of a high stakes probe by a US special counsel and congressional committees. Trump’s most ardent critics are already talking of impeachment.
In the interview, Putin was asked about reports of Kushner’s attempt to set up a secret communications channel with Russia. Putin said he knew nothing about it and that he had not discussed with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak any meeting with Kushner.
“Had there been anything significant he would have reported it to the minister. The minister would have reported it to me,” 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 create a sensation out of nothing and out of this sensation, you turn it into a weapon of war against the current president. Well, this is, you know, you’re just, you people are so creative over there. Good job. Your lives must be boring.”
“I’m being honest. Do you think that from all over the world and the United States, the ambassador reports to me every day who he eats with or meets with,” said Putin.
Putin also denied that Russia had any information on Trump to influence him or any relationship with him.
“Well, this is just another load of nonsense. Where would we get this information from? Did we have a special relationship with him? We didn’t have any relationship at all. … Have you all lost your senses over there?” Putin asked.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia meddled in the presidential election to hurt the bid of Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump himself has been dogged by questions about any business dealings with Russia — he says he has none — as well as reports of a Russian dossier of damaging personal information.
Putin again denied any Russian involvement in the US presidential election and said hacking blamed on Russia could have come from anywhere. A special counsel appointed by the Justice Department and congressional committees are investigating.
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.
As far as the findings of US intelligence agencies, Putin said, “They have been misled.” He said he had yet to see any evidence of Russian meddling and drew a connection between the allegations against Russia and the theory that US intelligence agencies arranged the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“If this theory is correct and that can’t be ruled out, then what could be easier, in this day and age, than using all the technical means at the disposal of the intelligence services, and using those means to organize some attacks and then pointing the finger at Russia,” he said.
Former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired after allegedly asking him to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his Russian contacts, is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate’s intelligence committee.
Putin said he had only a brief and passing acquaintance with Flynn, though the two sat next to each other at a dinner in Moscow in 2015.
Putin minimized his contact with Flynn, who was fired by Trump in February after offering misleading descriptions of conversations he had had before the inauguration with ambassador Kislyak.
Putin told Kelly that the dinner where the two met was routine.
“I made my speech. Then we talked about some other stuff. And I got up and left. And then afterward I was told, ‘You know, there was an American gentleman, he was involved in some things. He used to be in the security services.'”
“That’s it,” Putin said. “I didn’t even really talk to him. That’s the extent of my acquaintance with Mr. Flynn.”
Pictures show the two men at a table for 10 at an event sponsored by Russian television network RT, which French President Emmanuel Macron has denounced as a source of “lying propaganda” in the recent French election.
The contacts Flynn and other Trump aides had with Russian officials and bankers are drawing intense scrutiny.
When the Senate intelligence committee in May demanded that Flynn provide a list of any contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign and transition, Flynn invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination and refused.
Trump has strongly defended Flynn, saying his former aide was the victim of a witch hunt.
Interference ‘very very troubling’
As the Senate prepared for Comey’s appearance, Trump appeared unlikely to try to block him for testifying. The public hearing is expected to shed light on his private conversations with Trump in the weeks before his dismissal, including any discussion about the Flynn investigation.
There’s been no final decision as to whether Trump would invoke executive privilege, and the matter remains under discussion, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. Trump’s known to change his mind on major issues.
On Sunday, Lawmakers from both parties urged Trump not to stand in the way of Comey’s testimony.
“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 Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican member of the intelligence committee, said Comey’s testimony would be critical to address mounting questions about possible obstruction of justice.
The Senate intelligence committee also has invited top spy and law enforcement officials to testify Wednesday at a hearing about the federal law governing foreign intelligence collection. Warner said he intended to use that time to ask Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers about reports that Trump had urged them to say publicly there was no collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also are expected to testify.
For Thursday’s hearing, Trump could invoke executive privilege by arguing that discussions with Comey pertained to national security and that he had an expectation of privacy in getting candid advice from top aides. But legal experts say Trump likely undermined those arguments because he publicly discussed the conversations in tweets and interviews. Trump’s argument in favor of privilege also may be overcome because the investigation is focused on corruption and possible obstruction of justice.
Warner spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Blunt appeared on “Fox News Sunday.”