Moscow had contacts with Trump team during campaign, Russian diplomat says
Russian government officials had contacts with members of Donald Trump’s campaign team, a senior Russian diplomat said Thursday, in a disclosure that could reopen scrutiny over the Kremlin’s role in the president-elect’s bitter race against Hillary Clinton.
After the latest statement by the Russian diplomat, the spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, Hope Hicks, denied there were interactions between Russia and the Trump team before Tuesday’s election.
“The campaign had no contact with Russian officials,” she said in an email.
But Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, in an interview with the state-run Interfax news agency, said that “there were contacts” with the Trump team.
“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Rybakov said. “Those people have always been in the limelight in the United States and have occupied high-ranking positions. I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives.”
“We have just begun to consider ways of building dialogue with the future Donald Trump administration and channels we will be using for those purposes,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying.
There were no further details given on the claimed contacts, including names in the Trump campaign or other specifics.
Speaking to Bloomberg News, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Russian embassy staff met with members of Trump’s campaign, which she described as “normal practice.” Democratic Party contender Hillary Clinton’s campaign refused similar requests for meetings, she told the agency.
Asked later for clarification, Zakharova gave a revised interpretation of Rybakov’s remarks.
She said that Ryabkov probably had in mind meetings between Russian embassy staff and U.S. officials who supported the Trump campaign, rather than members of the campaign itself. She also said that the Russian Embassy may have helped Russian journalists reach members of the Trump campaign for interviews.
Obama administration officials have blamed Russian hackers, possibly with high-level intelligence links, for infiltrating the email account of Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta. The emails were then disclosed by WikiLeaks in an effort that Clinton supporters claim was intended to damage her White House bid.
Putin throughout the campaign denied that the Kremlin was interfering with the elections.
But neither the administration’s hacking allegations, nor reporting of Trump’s apparent ties to Russia, dissuaded more than 59 million voters from casting their ballots for the Republican.