Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to turn US accusations of election-meddling back on Americans.
In an excerpt of an NBC News interview, Putin said hackers can be anywhere. “They can be in Russia, in Asia … even in America, Latin America,” he said.
“They can even be hackers, by the way, in the United States who very skillfully and professionally shifted the blame, as we say, onto Russia,” Putin said.
“Can you imagine something like that? In the midst of a political battle,” he added, apparently referring to the 2016 US presidential election in which Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the Republican and Democratic contenders.
US intelligence officials have accused Russian operatives and government officials of orchestrating a broad hacking and misinformation campaign intended to damage the Democratic Party and help Trump win the election.
Trump and his surrogates — and Putin himself — have sought to discredit the hacking allegations and ongoing investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Trump has labelled it a “witch hunt,” and accused Democrats of acting out of bitterness over their election loss. Putin has made similar claims.
In his NBC News interview, Putin seemed to suggest that Democrats published their own hacked documents: “By some calculations it was convenient for them to release this information,” Putin said, “so they released it, citing Russia. Could you imagine something like that? I can.”
Putin said on Thursday that the Kremlin did not order the hacking campaign, but that “patriotically minded” Russian citizens may have taken it upon themselves to target “those who say bad things about Russia.”
A rapidly expanding investigation<
The ongoing Trump-Russia probes have ramped up in the US in recent weeks, after former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel to lead the inquiry. Bipartisan congressional investigations are continuing as well.
The inquiry has taken several turns just in the last two weeks, with the FBI looking more closely at Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner. New questions also emerged about additional undisclosed meetings between Jeff Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was also in the crosshairs of the House and Senate’s Russia probe. The panel asked Cohen to provide information about his contacts with Russian officials. For his part, Cohen told ABC News on Tuesday that he “declined the invitation to participate, as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad, and not capable of being answered.”
The FBI on Friday expanded its Trump-Russia probe to include a grand jury investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to sources cited by Reuters. That move is meant to look into Flynn’s paid work as a lobbyist for a Turkish businessman in 2016, in addition to contacts between Russian officials and Flynn and other Trump associates during and after last year’s US election.
Eyes on Comey
Fired FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify next week in a public hearing seen by some as the most anticipated congressional hearing in recent history.
Comey will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday in which he is expected to confirm details of his interactions with Trump that occurred shortly after the inauguration. Following Comey’s ouster from the FBI, it was reported that Trump had asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty. Comey denied the president’s request.
Comey reportedly documented is interactions with Trump in a series of memos, some of which allegedly detailed Trump’s requests to have the FBI drop its investigation of Flynn, a move that has prompted new accusations that Trump inappropriately tried to interfere in the FBI’s work.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to the memo.
Flynn had offered to testify to the House and Senate intelligence committees in exchange for immunity from prosecution, but neither panel has shown interest in accepting the offer.
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