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Putin Denies U.S. Election Meddling, Compromising Material On Trump

  • RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly on the sidelines of the 2017 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 3.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking on a prime-time U.S. TV program, has again denied that Moscow interfered in the presidential election last year and said that the Kremlin has no compromising material on President Donald Trump.

Putin used an interview aired on June 4 on NBC’s Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly to distance himself from the controversy over suspicions of Russian meddling, which has caused turmoil in Washington and seriously set back his stated hopes of improving badly strained ties with the United States.

He played down ties with a central figure in U.S. probes into the matter, saying that he "didn't even really talk to" Michael Flynn, who advised Trump during his campaign and served as his national security adviser for a few weeks before being forced out.

Putin said reports that he had any damaging information that could be used to compromise Trump were "just another load of nonsense. Where would we get this information from?"

Putin, who said last week that Russian hackers could have taken steps to interfere in the U.S. election for "patriotic" reasons but has repeatedly denied any state involvement, asserted that there was no need for Russia to seek to sway the results, suggesting it would be meaningless in the long term

"We don't even have to do that," Putin said. "Presidents come and go, and even the parties in power change, but the main political direction does not change."

WATCH: Megyn Kelly's Interview With Russian President Vladimir Putin

In January, the U.S. intelligence community issued an assessment that "Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election," with goals including undermining faith in the U.S. democratic system, denigrating Clinton, and improving Trump's chances of winning the presidency.

U.S. officials and many observers believe that Putin wanted to decrease Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's chances of election because she publicly took a tough stance over issues including Russia's record on human rights and democracy and its aggression in Ukraine, and strongly advocated continuing sanctions over its seizure of Crimea and its involvement in the war, whicht has killed more than 9,900 people in eastern Ukraine.

Putin has chilly relations with Clinton and accused her of encouraging antigovernment protests in Russia in 2011, as he was preparing to return to the presidency after four years as prime minister.

Trump, by contrast, made clear during the campaign that he would seek to improve relations with Russia and increase cooperation against terrorism -- something Putin has long called for.

Putin and Trump have at times voiced admiration for one another, but Putin said that he never had a “special relationship” with the U.S. president.

"We didn't have any relationship at all,” he said. “There was a time when he used to come to Moscow. But you know, I never met with him. We have a lot of Americans who visit us."

The FBI and the U.S. Congress are investigating the contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign and transition team, including for any signs of collusion by associates of Trump with what U.S. intelligence officials say were Russia's aims in the election.

Putin also said he had very little contact with Flynn, whose contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington are among the factors that led to the probes, even though they sat next to each other at a dinner in Moscow in December 2015.

"When I came to the event for our company, Russia Today, and sat down at the table, next to me there was a gentleman sitting on one side," Putin told Kelly in a reference to state-backed channel RT.

"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. I didn’t even really talk to him...That’s the extent of my acquaintance with Mr. Flynn," Putin said.

A longtime Soviet KGB officer, Putin usually seems to take pride in his attention to detail, knowledge of people he meets with, and thorough preparations for talks and other events.

Flynn was forced out by Trump in February after less than a month on the job following claims he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, during the transition period after Trump's election on November 8. He has also been accused of not reporting his meeting with Putin and income from Russian sources, such as payments from RT.

Putin also said he had no knowledge of a report by multiple U.S. media outlets of a proposal by Trump's son-in-law and key adviser Jared Kushner to set up a secret communications channel with the Kremlin.

"I don't know about this proposal. No proposal like that came to me," he said.

Putin’s comments were translated from Russian into English for the broadcast. The Kremlin released a Russian transcript on June 5.

While denying that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, Putin accused the United States of interfering in foreign elections.

"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.

Analysts say Putin frequently seeks to deflect allegations against Russia by trying to turn the tables and ascribe similar actions to the accusers.

He bristled when asked about reports of long-standing corruption and repression of dissent in Russia.

“Why do you feel you have the right to ask us these kinds of questions? And do it all the time? To moralize and to give us lessons on how to live?" Putin said.

"We're ready to listen to comments when it is done constructively, with the goal of establishing a relationship, creating a common environment. But we will absolutely not accept when these sorts of things are used as an instrument of political conflict," he said.

With reporting by NBC, AP, Bloomberg, Reuters, and AFP
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