ST. PETERSBURG — Russian President Vladimir Putin denied Friday that Moscow had colluded with members of Donald Trump’s campaign team before the new administration took office, and said that the U.S. allegation that Russia tipped the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump “reminds me of anti-Semitism and blaming the Jews.”
Putin, in remarks that projected ridicule, sarcasm and exasperation, denied that Russian officials had discussed sanctions in meetings with Trump’s aides, and said that no agreements on the possibility of lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia have been reached with the United States.
“I never even knew about these meetings,” Putin said in response to questions from NBC anchor Megyn Kelly at an economic forum in St. Petersburg. The Kremlin leader said that Democrats, having lost the election, were trying to put the blame on Russia to cover for their own campaign failures.
“It reminds me of anti-Semitism,” Putin said, his voice rising. “A stupid man who can’t do anything right would blame everything on the Jews.”
The Russian president dismissed the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia meddled on behalf of Trump. Putin said that he had read the report and found nothing but “speculation and conclusions base on speculation.”
Pressed by Kelly to explain the Russian “fingerprints” described by the combined intelligence agencies’ declassified report, Putin sneered that the Internet addresses that the document attributed to Russian hackers could have been rigged by anyone to blame Russia.
“What fingerprints?” Putin said. “Hoof prints? Horn prints? Experts in information technology can invent anything.”
Challenged by Kelly to explain what U.S. intelligence referred to as a disinformation campaign intended to undermine faith in the election, Putin pointed to leaked emails that showed the Democratic National Committee’s favoritism for Hillary Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, which led to the resignation of the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.).
Instead of apologizing, Putin said, Democrats “say it’s not our fault — it was the Russians.”
Putin and other top Russian officials have routinely dismissed as Russophobia all U.S. claims about Moscow’s involvement in the election, and they blame the furor over Russian interference for what both sides characterize as the low point in their post-Soviet relations. The Kremlin has sought to ridicule Americans for what Putin and his aides have dismissed as a witch hunt.
Putin also sounded off Friday about U.S. scrutiny of meetings between Trump’s team and Russia’s ambassador to the United States. The contacts have become the focus of an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s aides that has most recently centered on Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
Kushner met with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in early December and suggested establishing a secure communications line between the Kremlin and Trump officials at a Russian diplomatic facility, according to U.S. officials who reviewed intelligence reports describing Kislyak’s account.
Kushner then held a secret meeting with Sergey Gorkov, head of Russia’s Kremlin-connected development bank, a meeting the White House says was one of many diplomatic encounters that Kushner, now a presidential adviser, held in the weeks before President Trump’s inauguration.
Gorkov, chairman of Vnesheconombank, refused to comment on the meetings when confronted here Friday. He referred reporters to the bank’s March statement that the meeting was conducted with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business.
In Friday’s interview, Putin expressed scorn at the focus on Kislyak’s contacts with Trump’s team, saying it was normal for a diplomat to establish contacts.
“What else is the ambassador supposed to do?” Putin said. “He’s paid for holding meetings, discussing current affairs. Have you lost your mind?
“Maybe someone has a pill that will cure this hysteria,” he added.
Asked about Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, Putin stopped short of condemning the U.S. president.
The climate deal cannot work without the United States, he said, but the accord is not slated to go into effect until 2021, which leaves hope for a compromise that would bring the United States back into the deal.
Switching to English, Putin added, “Don’t worry, be happy.”