Putin: The Russian Gov’t Didn’t Try To Influence The U.S. Election, But ‘Patriotically Minded’ Russian Hackers Might Have

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By now, there are almost too many affirmative U.S. intelligence reports about the Russian government hacking the DNC (in order to get Trump elected) to count. The entire timeline of Trump-Russia links has reached a mind-boggling volume, yet the FBI and Congressional investigations about the hacking and possible collusion have only just begun. U.S. intelligence officials even say that Vladimir Putin was directly involved in orchestrating the attacks, but he’s still playing dumb with a series of accelerating comments.

On Thursday, Putin spoke with senior-level editors of several international publications (via the AP and the New York Times) and issued perhaps his most elaborate set of excuses yet on why the Kremlin is not to blame for the election-related hacking. First, Putin said that if anyone tried to influence the U.S. election, they’re probably trying to frame the Kremlin, or perhaps these are rogue yet “patriotically minded” hackers who love Russia:

“I can imagine that some do it deliberately, staging a chain of attacks in such a way as to cast Russia as the origin of such an attack. Modern technologies allow that to be done quite easily … If they are patriotically minded, they may try to add their contribution to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia. Theoretically it’s possible.”

Theoretically? Even if one sets aside the magnitude of Russia’s obsession (and apparent success) in influencing the U.S. government, there’s also the recent French election hacking (which NSA Director Mike Rogers confirms was done by Russia) to cite. A few days ago, new French President Emmanuel Macron told Putin to his face that this Russian effort also included fake news and propaganda, which is a very real danger in many countries — influencing elections and even sparking genocide — and the threat continues.

However, when Putin was asked about reports that Russians are trying to influence this year’s German election (in which Trump critic Angela Merkel’s 11-year chancellor run is being challenged by a formidable opponent), Putin argued that voters in any country simply cannot be swayed by hackers:

“I’m deeply convinced that no hackers can radically influence another country’s election campaign. No hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America. We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so.”

This is a good time to remember that a Putin-linked think tank reportedly hatched a plan to influence the U.S. election with rumors of voter fraud. The plan was aimed at destroying faith in the electoral system and destroying Hillary Clinton’s chances at success, largely because of an old grudge. Not only that, but Paul Manafort reportedly earned $10 million per year to twist U.S. political coverage to “advance the interests” of Putin, all in preparation for the 2016 election. So, yes, Putin’s continued denials look silly.

Oh, and Megyn Kelly’s Sunday night interview (her NBC debut, which will air at 7pm EST) with Vladimir Putin is officially happening. In this preview from St. Petersburg, Kelly promises to ask him about “meddling” and “the prospect of our two countries working together.” Well, if Putin didn’t admit the hacking to Oliver Stone, he’s not gonna give it away to Kelly either.

(Via Associated Press, New York Times & NBC)