Even as WikiLeaks released another trove of internal documents from Hillary Clinton’s campaign on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted his country was not involved in an effort to influence the U.S. presidential election.
Last week, the U.S. government formally accused Russia of launching a hacking campaign to “interfere with the U.S. election process.” Clinton’s campaign, which has charged the Kremlin is trying to help Republican Donald Trump win the White House on Nov. 8, took its allegations a step further on Tuesday when John Podesta, chairman of the Democratic nominee’s campaign, accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia.
In Moscow, Putin said nothing in the hacking scandal is in Russia’s interests and said all sides in the U.S. presidential campaign were misusing rhetoric about Russia for their own purposes.
“They started this hysteria, saying this (hacking) is in Russia’s interests, but this has nothing to do with Russia’s interests,” Putin told a business forum.
Putin said his government would work with whoever won the U.S. election, “if, of course, the new U.S. leader wishes to work with our country.”
WikiLeaks, the organization started by Julian Assange that publishes leaked information on the internet, this week released thousands of emails from Podesta’s email account and has not said how it obtained them. Last week, it posted excerpts from Clinton’s private speeches to banking and financial firms.
The Clinton campaign has not confirmed the authenticity of the messages.
The leaks, coming as the election campaign reaches the final stretch, have the potential to embarrass the Clinton camp. In recent days, however, Trump’s own campaign has been in deeper trouble over the emergence of a 2005 video in which Trump bragged about groping women and making unwanted sexual advances. Many Republican elected officials have turned their back on him and he has seen Clinton’s lead in national opinion polls increase.
Clinton, who was secretary of state in the Obama administration from 2009-2013, has repeatedly accused Trump of having overly friendly ties with Putin and the Russian government. She has noted that Trump’s foreign policies have tended to align with Russian’s interests, whether it has been questioning NATO’s role in defending Eastern Europe, failing to recognize Russia’s intrusion into Ukraine, and supporting Russia’s actions in Syria.
Trump, a new York business man who has never previously run for office, has shifted his policies on a wide range of issues, from taxes to the minimum wage to immigration during his White House campaign but his statements on Russia have been consistent. In addition to drawing criticism from Clinton and other Democrats, his stance on Moscow departs from the views of many prominent Republicans.
During a presidential debate on Sunday, Trump publicly disagreed with his own vice presidential choice, Mike Pence, who had called for a more hawkish approach toward Russia.
Trump has said that as president he would seek warmer relations with Russia and that it would be in the United States’ best interests to seek Russia’s help to defeat Islamic State.
“Trump is the most pro-Russian presidential candidate ever,” said Max Boot, a senior fellow for national security studies at the Council of Foreign Relations. “Putin no doubt sees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reorient U.S. foreign policy in his direction by electing Trump.”
Podesta said on Tuesday the FBI was investigating a “criminal hack” of his emails, and he tied the Trump campaign to the leaks by suggesting that a former Trump adviser, Roger Stone, had advance warning of the hacks.
The Trump campaign has not responded to the allegation about Stone, but Trump has denied any coordination with the Russian government to embarrass Clinton – and has even questioned whether any hacks actually occurred.
“I notice anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians,” Trump said during Sunday’s presidential debate. “She doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”
But Trump has made clear he supports WikiLeaks’ efforts. “I love WikiLeaks,” he said at a rally in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
The U.S. has an ongoing criminal investigation into Assange’s publishing of classified material. Clinton has been a fierce critic of Assange, who remains at the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he sought refuge in 2012 to avoid possible extradition to Sweden.
Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security said in a joint statement that the government was confident the hacks of Democratic political groups and campaign officials originated from high levels of the Russian government.
The White House on Tuesday promised a “proportional” response to Russia over the hacks.
In an interview with CNN, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States had offered no proof of his government’s involvement, and suggested Moscow was unconcerned about possible reprisals.
“If they decided to do something, let them do it,” Lavrov said.