Russia denies trying to interfere in 2020 U.S. election to benefit Trump

The Kremlin on Friday denied it was interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign to boost Republican President Donald Trump's re-election chances following reports that American intelligence officials warned Congress about the election threat last week.

Kremlin comments come after U.S. reports that Trump was rankled by intelligence briefing to Congress

Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of a news conference in Helsinki on July 16, 2018, where he famously expressed doubts about U.S. intelligence claims of Russian interference in the U.S. election two years earlier. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/The Associated Press)

The Kremlin on Friday denied it was interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign to boost Republican President Donald Trump's re-election chances following reports that American intelligence officials warned Congress about the election threat last week.

U.S. intelligence officials told members of the House of Representatives intelligence committee in a classified briefing last week that Russia was again interfering in American politics ahead of November's election, a person familiar with the discussion told Reuters.

U.S. officials have long warned that Russia and other countries would seek to interfere in the Nov. 3 presidential election, following Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign that ended with Trump's surprise victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded that the Kremlin used fake news reports, cyberattacks and other methods in its 2016 operation in an effort to boost Trump, an allegation that Russia denies. Trump has also repeatedly questioned the finding.

On Friday, the Kremlin said the latest allegations were false.

"These are more paranoid announcements which, to our regret, will multiply as we get closer to the election," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "They have nothing to do with the truth."

Russia's alleged interference sparked a two-year-long U.S. investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller found no conclusive evidence of co-ordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, though his report also detailed a generalized acceptance of entreaties to the campaign, including a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian individuals. Mueller also pointed at 10 instances in which Trump may have attempted to obstruct his investigation, as Democrats alleged, but left any finding of obstruction to Congress.

Trump, seeking a second term in office, accused Democrats in Congress of "launching a misinformation campaign."

Last July, he called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate one of his potential Democratic rivals, former vice-president Joe Biden, sparking his impeachment in the Democratic-controlled House.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, seen in December, denounced the allegations described in U.S. media reports as 'paranoid announcements.' (Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik/Reuters)

Trump, who was later acquitted by the Republican-led U.S. Senate, has also publicly called on China to probe Biden.

A month before the momentous call with Zelensky, Trump indicated in an ABC News interview that if a foreign country had dirt on his eventual Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, "I think I'd want to hear it."

Intelligence post change announced

Last week's classified congressional briefing sparked a sharp response by Trump, who rebuked acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire for allowing his staff to brief the lawmakers, including Democratic panel chair Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment inquiry, the New York Times reported, quoting five people familiar with the matter.

Trump then dismissed Maguire, abruptly announcing this week that Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist, would be the acting intelligence chief, even as he continues serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany. His appointment drew sharp rebukes from Democrats and other critics who said Grenell lacked intelligence experience.

"American voters should decide American elections, not Vladimir Putin," U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a post on Twitter late on Thursday, referring to Russia's president. She called on lawmakers to condemn Trump's "reported efforts to dismiss threats to the integrity of our democracy & to politicize our intel community."

"If reports are true and the president is interfering with that, he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling. Exactly as we warned he would do," Schiff said Thursday night.

Trump's last full-time director of national intelligence, former Republican Senator Dan Coats, resigned last year after his differences with the president over Russia's role in the 2016 election became public.

Trump famously mentioned Coats in public when he answered a question about Kremlin election inference while standing next to Putin in his July 2018 summit with the Russian leader in Helsinki.

"My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others and said they think it's Russia," said Trump. "I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia.

"I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be [Russia]."

Trump has repeatedly called the U.S. Russia probe and the impeachment inquiry a "witch hunt."

Meanwhile, Grenell said Thursday on Twitter he will only be in the role in an acting capacity, with Trump to eventually put forth a different person for consideration, as a permanent DNI needs to be confirmed through hearings in the Senate. In the past, Democrats have accused Trump of subverting the standard process by filling his administration with people serving in an acting capacity.

Trump said on Twitter there are four candidates under consideration, with the nominee to be announced "within the next few weeks."

His fellow Republicans at last week's briefing questioned the information, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.

Republican members of the panel did not respond to a request for comment.

With files from CBC News


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