MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Tuesday dismissed as "baseless" and "ludicrous" the notion that charges leveled by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III against three former Trump campaign officials constituted proof of Russian meddling in U.S. political affairs.
Moscow has always denied playing any role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and has portrayed the investigation into Russian interference as an attempt by President Trump's opponents to rationalize the election defeat of Hillary Clinton. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said 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 U.S. elections," 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 already rampant Russophobic hysteria."
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other offenses 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 Peskov said shows that "Russia isn't part of it."
The second indictment concerned former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who admitted making a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with foreigners claiming to have high-level Russian connections.
Papadopoulos's plea agreement, signed earlier this month and unsealed Monday, described his extensive efforts to broker connections with Russian officials and arrange a meeting between them and the Trump campaign. Emails show that higher-ranking officials at least entertained the idea of arranging these meetings.
Peskov dismissed a question about whether the charges against Papadopoulos provided proof that Russian officials had tried to meddle in the U.S. election.
"These are ludicrous accusations, ludicrous statements, once again groundless, baseless, and we treat them accordingly," he said.
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.
Rosalind S. Helderman in Washington contributed to this report.