- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Monday that the infamous anti-Trump dossier was fake and insisted that Moscow doesn’t have damaging information about President Trump.

The former KGB spy chief chuckled when an American journalist asked him directly at a televised press conference whether Russia compiled dirt on Mr. Trump or his family before the 2016 presidential election.

“I was an intelligence officer myself, and I know how dossiers are made up,” Mr. Putin said dismissively, standing next to Mr. Trump after their summit in Helsinki.

The dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele was based on Kremlin sources. It alleged collusion between Mr. Trump and the Russian government and included salacious stories of Mr. Trump consorting with prostitutes during a visit to Moscow in 2013.

The dossier was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and was circulated among Democrat-friendly news outlets during the 2016 election season.

Mr. Trump and his associates have ridiculed the dossier and said it is full of made-up charges. Mr. Putin seemed to agree Monday.

“I did hear these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow,” the Russian president told a reporter. “Well, distinguished colleague, let me tell you this: When President Trump was at Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect, but back then when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.”

He said Russia’s legendary intelligence operatives can’t possibly keep track of every American businessman visiting the country. Mr. Putin pointed to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum as an example.

“There were over 500 American businessmen, high-ranking, high-level ones,” the Russian leader said. “I don’t even remember the last names of each and every one of them. Do you think that we try to collect compromising material on each and every single one of them? It’s difficult to imagine an utter nonsense of a bigger scale than this.”

Mr. Putin advised the audience, “Please just disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.”

In Washington, Democrats weren’t taking Mr. Putin’s advice. Some top lawmakers said Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to blame Russia for election meddling only confirmed their suspicions that Moscow has compromising information on the president.

“It begs the question, what does Vladimir Putin, what do the Russians have on DT — personally, politically and financially — that he should behave in such a manner?” asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, said the Russian government likely has salacious information on Mr. Trump or unflattering video.

“It’s a standard strategy of Russia when people visit there who are important to try to get compromising information on them — to set them up with hookers, to tape everything that goes on in the room — so it’s likely they have that,” Mr. Merkley said.

No accusations of collusion in the Steele dossier have been proved or verified, but the FBI relied on the document heavily to obtain wiretaps and interview witnesses in its Russia investigation.

Disgraced FBI agent Peter Strzok told a joint House committee last week that the FBI received from Associate Attorney General Bruce Ohr sections of the dossier during the investigation into Russia election interference. His disclosure confirmed an unusual route for collusion accusations to reach the Justice Department from Trump opponents outside the government.

Mr. Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, the investigative firm paying Mr. Steele and trying to damage Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Mr. Strzok, who led the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign, said he began receiving parts of the dossier in September 2016, but not from Mr. Ohr, and continued receiving documents into 2017.

In Finland with Mr. Putin on Monday, Mr. Trump said Mr. Strzok’s testimony about the dossier underscores his assertions that the special counsel’s investigation of collusion is contrived and politically motivated. He said if Russia had compiled dirt on him, “It would have been out long ago.”

“And if anybody watched Peter Strzok testify over the last couple of days — and I was in Brussels watching it — it was a disgrace to the FBI, it was a disgrace to our country, and you would say that was a total witch hunt,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Putin also used the press conference to go after prominent Kremlin critic William Browder, a London-based financier and human rights advocate whom he accused of funneling $400 million to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.

The Russian president offered to allow U.S. officials to take part in the questioning of Russian military officers indicted by the U.S. last week for election meddling, if Washington allows Russian law enforcement officials to take part in interrogations of people “who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia.” He targeted Mr. Browder in particular.

“Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia,” Mr. Putin said. “They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States, and yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent huge amount of money, $400 million as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. It might have been legal, the contribution itself, but the way the money was earned was illegal.”

He said Russian authorities “have a solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers accompanied and guided these transactions. So we have an interest of questioning them.”

Mr. Browder said Monday that he never contributed to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and that Mr. Trump was being “played” by the Russian president.

“He’s been at this game for a long time,” Mr. Browder said on CNBC. “He was a KGB officer and the head of the KGB before that. He’s been thinking about this summit for months and months and months and looking at every different nuance and potential weakness of Trump. He’s playing Trump and the United States like a fiddle right now.”

He said Mr. Putin is obsessed with retaliating against him for leading a human rights campaign against Moscow.

“Vladimir Putin and his regime have accused me of serial killing, of being a CIA, MI-6 agent and about a thousand other things,” he said. “He’s kind of unhinged in these accusations.”

Seth McLaughlin and Alex Swoyer contributed to this article.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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