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Putin: Claims of Russian meddling in US vote ‘fantasies’

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Danang, Vietnam, on Saturday. (Reuters)
DANANG: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said accusations that Moscow meddled in US elections, particularly through contacts with Donald Trump’s campaign team, are “fantasies” and attempts to undermine the US presidency.
The Trump administration has been roiled by claims that Moscow helped the billionaire into the White House, with key former aides under a US investigation for alleged collaboration with the Kremlin.
“Everything about the so-called Russian dossier in the US is a manifestation of continuing domestic political struggle,” Putin told journalists at the Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam.
“Of course I’m aware,” he said when asked if he follows the mounting probe concerning contacts between Trump’s team members and Russians, including a woman who claimed to be Putin’s niece.
“Regarding some sort of connections of my relatives with members of the administration or some officials, I only found out about that yesterday from (spokesman Dmitry) Peskov,” he said.
“I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “I think these are some sort of fantasies.”
He added that US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s Russia connections could be explained by his business interests. “I think he did business before... he signed contracts, perhaps with Russian companies too,” Putin said. “That has nothing to do with politics.”
The contacts of Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort were also harmless, according to Putin, who said he was only a “head of a PR agency.”
“This is empty chatter and wish to use any pretext to undermine the current president,” Putin resumed.
Meanwhile, Trump said Saturday that Putin again denied interfering in the US elections. But Trump declined to say whether he believed the Russian leader.
“He says he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on the trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. “Every time he sees me, he said: ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it.”
Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting while they were in Vietnam for an economic summit, but the two spoke informally several times and reached agreement on a number of principles for the future of war-torn Syria. But Trump made clear that the issue of Russian meddling in the election hovers over the leaders’ relationship — Putin is “insulted” by the accusation, Trump said. In a blistering partisan attack, Trump accused Democrats of using the election issue to create a barrier between the US and Russia as the nations work on crises in Syria and Ukraine.
“Having a good relationship with Russia’s a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way,” Trump told reporters, once again casting doubt on the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia did try to interfere in the election. “People will die because of it.”
Trump’s suggestion that he may believe Putin over his own nation’s intelligence community is certain to re-ignite the firestorm over the election meddling. Meanwhile, a special counsel investigation of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides so far has resulted in two indictments for financial and other crimes unrelated to the campaign, as well as a guilty plea.

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