Saturday 18 November 2017

Kremlin denies charges against Trump officials prove election meddling

Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Photo: Getty Images
Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Photo: Getty Images

Dmitry Solovyov

The Kremlin yesterday dismissed as "baseless" and "ludicrous" the notion that charges levelled by special counsel Robert Mueller against three former Trump campaign officials constituted proof of a possible meddling by Russia in US political affairs.

Moscow has always denied playing any role in the 2016 presidential election, and has portrayed the investigation into Russian interference as an attempt by US President Donald Trump's opponents to cover up for the election defeat of Hillary Clinton.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the indictments released Monday provided no evidence of Russian meddling.

"From the outset we have been completely baffled over these baseless, unproven accusations against our country, about alleged attempts to interfere with US elections," Mr Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

"We don't want to be any part of this process, and we'd prefer that these proceedings not facilitate the intensification of Russophobic hysteria that has already exceeded all boundaries."

Mr Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his long-time business partner Rick Gates were charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other charges in connection with their work advising a political party in Ukraine.

The leader of that party, former president Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Russia after his regime was toppled by protesters in 2014.

The indictment makes no mention of Russia's role, which Mr Peskov said showed that "Russia isn't part of it".

The second indictment concerned former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who admitted to making a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with foreigners claiming to have high-level Russian connections.

Mr Papadopoulos's plea agreement, signed earlier this month and unsealed Monday, described extensive efforts to try to broker connections with Russian officials and arrange a meeting between them and the Trump campaign.

Emails show that more senior officials at least entertained the idea of arranging these meetings.

Mr Peskov dismissed a question as to whether the charges against Mr Papadopoulos provided proof that Russian officials had tried to meddle in the US elections.

"These are ludicrous accusations, ludicrous statements, once again groundless, baseless, and we treat them accordingly," he said.

Mr Peskov said the Kremlin was watching the proceedings "with interest".

"The main thing is that it doesn't concern our citizens, because we are always going to defend the interests of our citizens," he said.

Irish Independent

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