- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2019

Russians sympathized with President Trump for trying to mend ties between the two countries but did not help him win the White House, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview released Friday.

Mr. Putin made the remarks while speaking at the Kremlin last month with filmmaker Oliver Stone, according to a transcript released by the Russian leader’s office.

“I did not interfere then, I do not want to interfere now, and I am not going to interfere in the future,” Mr. Putin said. “I have principles.”

It is “simply unrealistic” that Russias could “change anything” about a U.S. presidential election, he insisted.

“No matter what our bloggers — or whoever’s job it is to comment on the internet — might say about the situation in the U.S., this could not have played a decisive role. It is sheer nonsense,” Mr. Putin said.

“But our sympathies were with him because he said he wanted to restore normal relations with Russia. What is bad about that? Of course, we can only welcome this position,” he said.

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Federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies have determined that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and members of the Trump administration have repeatedly warned that Moscow may meddle in next year’s race as well.

Mr. Putin has denied responsibility.

Among the tactics deployed by Russians during the 2016 race was the use of professional “internet trolls” to conduct a social media campaign that disparaged Mr. Trump’s former Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, according to the Department of Justice. Those efforts were conducted separately from a suspected state-sponsored hacking spree that targeted the Clinton campaign and others.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch with ties to Mr. Putin, operated a so-called “troll farm” that generated and propagated internet content meant to support the Trump campaign, hurt Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and sow discord in the U.S. political system, federal prosecutors claimed previously.

Known as the “Internet Research Agency,” the company and Mr. Prigozhin are among the more than 30 Russian individuals and entities facing criminal charges brought as a result of an investigation into election led by Robert Mueller for the Justice Department’s Office of the Special Counsel. Lawyers defending the Internet Research Agency’s parent company, Concord Management and Consulting, have pleaded not guilty.

Combined with hacking Democratic targets and stealing sensitive material later leaked online, Russians were able to interfere in the 2016 race in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” Mr. Mueller said in his report summarizing the special counsel’s probe.

Republicans and Democrats briefed about the 2020 race by top administration officials last week said Russians are likely to meddle in next year’s election as well.

More recently, the nation’s top intelligence official announced the creation Friday of a new position dedicated to countering ongoing threats to election security.

“Election security is an enduring challenge and a top priority for the IC,” said Daniel R. Coats, President Trump’s director of national intelligence. “In order to build on our successful approach to the 2018 elections, the IC must properly align its resources to bring the strongest level of support to this critical issue.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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