The Kremlin said Monday the indictment of 13 Russians on charges relating to U.S. election meddling did not prove Russian state involvement.
The indictment, drawn up by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller and released Friday, accuses 13 Russian citizens and three Russian companies of disrupting the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in favor of Donald Trump, a conspiracy known as “Project Lakhta.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the indictment contained no evidence of Russian state involvement.
“They are talking about Russian citizens, but we have heard in announcements from Washington accusations about the involvement of the Russian state, the Kremlin and the Russian government,” Peskov said.
He said that allegations the Russian state ran the conspiracy were “unfair and baseless.”
“There are no indications that the Russian state could have been involved in this and nor can there be any. Russia did not meddle, does not have the habit of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, and is not doing so now.”
Mueller’s indictment said that Russia’s propaganda arm had coordinated a sophisticated, yearslong conspiracy to interfere in U.S. domestic politics and generate support for Trump over his rival Hillary Clinton.
With the help of a Californian, who pleaded guilty Friday to aiding the alleged conspiracy, the defendants are alleged to have stolen the identities of Americans to open bank and Paypal accounts used to pay for social media ads and rallies in support of Trump.
Trump, who has repeatedly referred to meddling claims as a Russian “hoax,” denied Sunday he’d ever made those claims.
“I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said ‘it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer,’” he wrote.
“The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!”
However, Trump has frequently cast doubt on claims of Russian interference. In September he tweeted: “The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that former Trump presidential campaign aide Rick Gates had struck a deal with Mueller to testify against his old boss, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, in exchange for leniency over fraud related charges. The move will increase pressure on Manafort to cooperate with Mueller’s probe.
A separate investigation is looking into the issue of whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians.
Cover image: The Russian president's spokesman Dmitry Peskov at a press conference by the Russian leader on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit. (Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)