Russia's Vladimir Putin denies allegations about Trump and Kushner, downplays Flynn meeting

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, on June 2, 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, on June 2, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly denied he had any compromising material about United States President Donald Trump in a televised interview broadcast on Sunday (June 4).

"Well, this is just another load of nonsense," Putin said on NBC News' "Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly," when asked whether he had any damaging information on the Republican president.

The remarks were the latest in a series of denials from Moscow that have had little impact so far on a political crisis in the United States over potential links between Russia and Trump's inner circle.

Putin also told NBC he had no relationship with Trump, despite Trump's previous travel to Russia as a businessman. Putin noted that executives from perhaps 100 American companies were currently in Russia.

"Do you think we're gathering compromising information on all of them right now or something?" Putin asked, before saying:"Have you all lost your senses?"

Trump has called an FBI investigation into alleged ties between his campaign and Russia a "witch hunt" designed to undermine the legitimacy of his 2016 election win.

US intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow interfered in last year's US presidential election campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump's favour.

"They have been misled," Putin told NBC. "And they aren't analysing the information in its entirety. I haven't seen, even once, any direct proof of Russian interference in the (US) presidential election."

Putin also said he was unaware of any proposal from Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, to set up a secret line of communications between the incoming administration and the Russian government.

"I am not aware of such a proposal," Putin said. "No such proposal ever reached me."

Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump, discussed the idea of creating a secret channel, primarily to discuss the crisis in Syria, with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in December, as the Trump team was in the middle of its transition to the White House, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The line was never established, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. A secret line with Russia could have allowed the Trump transition team and Russian officials to communicate outside of the scrutiny of the departing Obama administration. The issue has become a centerpiece of the questions swirling around Trump and his campaign and possible ties to Russia.

Putin also said he had only a brief and passing acquaintance with former US national security adviser Michael Flynn, although the two sat next to each other at a dinner in Moscow in 2015.

Flynn was fired by Trump in February after offering misleading descriptions of conversations he had had with Kislyak.

Putin told Kelly that the dinner where the two met was routine. "I made my speech. Then we talked about some other stuff. And I got up and left. And then afterwards 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," he said. "I didn't even really talk to him. That's the extent of my acquaintance with Mr Flynn."

Pictures show the two men at a table for 10 at an event sponsored by Russian television network RT, which French President Emmanuel Macron has denounced as a source of "lying propaganda" in the recent French election.

Other guests at the table included Jill Stein, the US Green Party presidential candidate, and Cyril Svoboda, a former Czech deputy prime minister.

The contacts Flynn and other Trump aides had with Russian officials and bankers are drawing intense scrutiny, particularly after US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian hackers meddled in the American election.

When the Senate intelligence committee in May demanded that Flynn provide a list of any contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign and transition, Flynn invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination and refused.

Senators will be grilling fired FBI chief James Comey on Thursday about an Oval Office meeting in February at which, Comey later told aides, Trump asked him to end the investigation into Flynn and possible Russia links, saying, "I hope you can let this go."

 

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