Trump team collusion with Russia an 'open question,' says Clinton aide

Campaign chairman John Podesta watches from the edge of the stage during a campaign rally with US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US on Nov 4, 2016.
Campaign chairman John Podesta watches from the edge of the stage during a campaign rally with US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US on Nov 4, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A top aide to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign said on Sunday (Dec 18) it was an "open question" whether President-elect Donald Trump's advisers colluded with Russia to hack into Democratic Party emails to try to sway the Nov 8 election.

Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said there was evidence that Trump associates had contact with a Russian intelligence official and the website Wikileaks before US intelligence agencies accused Russia of being behind computer attacks of Democratic emails, including Podesta's.

"It's very much unknown whether there was collusion. I think Russian diplomats have said post-election that they were talking to the Trump campaign," Podesta told NBC's Meet the Press programme.

"Not what Mr Trump knew, but what did 'Trump Inc' know and when did they know it? Were they in touch with the Russians? I think those are still open questions," he added.

 

Asked if it was a free and fair election, Podesta replied:"I think it was distorted by the Russian intervention, let's put it that way."

The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But in a separate interview, Trump's incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, rejected the notion that Trump or his associates were aware of and in touch with the Russians during the hack attack.

"Even this question is insane," Priebus told Fox News Sunday. "Of course we don't interface with the Russians."

Russia has denied US accusations that it was behind the hacks.

But on Friday, US President Barack Obama suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorised the Democratic Party email hacks.

Trump and his team have rejected claims that Russian hacking helped him win the election and blame Democrats for trying to delegitimise the election results.

Leaked emails revealed details of paid speeches Clinton gave to Wall Street, party infighting and comments from top aides to Clinton who were shocked about the extent of her use of a private server to send emails while US secretary of state.

The leaks led to embarrassing media coverage and prompted some party officials to resign.

Podesta pointed specifically to Trump associates Roger Stone and Carter Page.

He suggested that Stone had advanced warning of the Russian hacks and met with Julian Assange of Wikileaks, the controversial transparency group that released thousands of hacked emails including Podesta.

Podesta accused Page of having met with "the person in the Russian hierarchy who was responsible for collecting intelligence" ahead of the Republican convention.

Page is a businessman whom the Trump campaign listed as one of its foreign-policy advisers in March.

After Page visited Moscow in July, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks played down his role in the campaign, describing him as "an informal adviser named as part of a much larger group several months ago."

She said Page did not "speak for or represent the campaign in any official capacity."

Stone is a former Trump adviser and longtime confidant of Trump who left the Trump campaign in August 2015 but has remained a prominent supporter of the president-elect.