President Vladimir Putin said he’s unaware of any proposal from Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, to set up a secret line of communications between the incoming administration and the Russian government, and that it’s “nonsense” to say Russia has collected compromising material about Trump.
“I am not aware of such a proposal,” Putin said in an interview for NBC News’ “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” conducted in St. Petersburg on June 2 and broadcast on Sunday. “No such proposal ever reached me.”
Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump, discussed the idea of creating a secret channel, primarily to discuss the crisis in Syria, with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in December, as the Trump team was in the middle of its transition to the White House, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The line was never established, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
A secret line with Russia could have allowed the Trump transition team and Russian officials to communicate outside of the scrutiny of the departing Obama administration. It’s become a centerpiece of the questions swirling around Trump and his campaign and possible ties to Russia.
Putin said that his nation had no channels of communication with the campaigns of either Trump or Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, but that there may have been official contacts, which he called a “standard diplomatic practice.”
Trump, a New York property magnate turned politician who praised Putin repeatedly during last year’s presidential campaign, is facing multiple probes in Washington into the extent of any links to Russia, and whether his campaign played any role in Russia interfering with the election.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia used hacking and leaking of emails in an effort to harm Clinton and help Trump. James Comey — who was fired from his post as FBI director by Trump in May — told a congressional committee in March that the Federal Bureau of Investigation also was investigating “whether there was any coordination” with Trump’s campaign.
Trump has called the Russia inquiry a “witch hunt” and the talk of a collusion “a total hoax,” although he also has hedged his denials when it comes to those around him.
Never Met Trump
Putin said he’d never met the president, including during a visit by Trump to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, and called the existence of a secret Russian dossier on Trump “just another piece of nonsense.”
Putin also told NBC’s Kelly that he’s not aware of any meetings between Kislyak and officials from the Trump campaign, and that he doesn’t talk to Russian ambassadors every day. He called the allegations “domestic political squabbles” and a line of attack against Trump.
“This is just some kind of nonsense,” Putin said in response to a question about Kislyak meeting Trump campaign officials. “Because if there had been something meaningful, he would have made a report to the minister, and the minister would have made a report to me. There weren’t even any reports.”
Despite saying there had been no reports, Putin volunteered that “there was not even a specific discussion of sanctions or something else.” In a discussion moderated by Kelly on Friday, Putin said it was “nuts” to suggest the Trump administration had moved to ease economic sanctions on Russia.
Little Flynn Contact
Putin also said that he barely interacted with Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, during a dinner in Moscow in 2015 when the pair were seated together. Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was paid $45,000 to speak at the anniversary gala for the Russia Today television network.
“When I came to the event for our company, Russia Today, and sat down at the table, next to me there was a gentleman sitting on one side,” Putin said.
“I made my speech. Then we talked about some other stuff. And I got up and left. And then afterwards I was told, ‘You know there was an American gentleman. He was involved in some things. He used to be in the security services.’ That’s it. I didn’t even really talk to him…That’s the extent of my acquaintance with Mr. Flynn,” Putin said.
An adviser to Trump’s campaign and prominent speaker at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Flynn was fired less than four weeks after Trump’s inauguration after claims he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Kislyak during the presidential transition.
Asked whether all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that concluded Russia interfered with the election are lying, Putin said “they have been misled” and said he has not seen “any direct proof of Russia’s interference.”
“What fingerprints or hoot-prints or horn-prints, what are you talking about,” he said.
Putin even suggested that former President Barack Obama “started having doubts” when they spoke about it. The pair met on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Peru in November, weeks after Trump’s upset election win.
The Russian president accused the U.S. of “actively interfering in electoral campaigns of other countries” while denying that Russia has any motive to do so. “Even if we wanted to, it wouldn’t make any sense for us to interfere,” Putin said.
The Russian president said he had “no relationship whatsoever” with Trump. “Yes, he visited Moscow in his day,” Putin said. “But, you know, I never met him.”
The idea of a damaging Russian file on Trump “is just another piece of nonsense,” Putin said.
Putin said many chief executives of major U.S. companies visit Russia and “do you think we are gathering dirt on all of them now?”