Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman has emphasized that the Kremlin sees no evidence of accusations of Russian meddling in the indictment handed down to U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman and an associate.
Speaking on October 31, Dmitry Peskov reiterated Russia's denial that it interfered in the U.S. election, and called the investigations into alleged Russian meddling and possible collusion by associates of Trump an "internal matter for our American partners."
"From what we have read in media reports and seen in statements by participants in the process, Russia so far does not figure in any way in the charges that have been issued," Peskov told journalists.
"Other countries and other people" are named, he said, apparently referring to Ukraine and Viktor Yanukovych, the Moscow-friendly president who was pushed from power by pro-European protests in Kyiv and fled to Russia in 2014.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates pleaded not guilty on October 30 to conspiring to defraud the United States in over a decade of dealings with political forces in Ukraine.
Manafort and Gates lodged their pleas in a Washington, D.C., court shortly after being named in the first publicly announced indictment since former FBI chief Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to head the U.S. Justice Department probe.
Manafort and Gates were indicted on 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements, and charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. A judge ordered house arrest for both of them.
Trump, who has called the U.S. investigations a witch hunt, issued tweets on October 31 repeating his denial that he or any of his associates colluded with Russia. "The Fake News is working overtime, he tweeted, adding that Manafort's lawyer had said "there was no collusion."
The indictment against Manafort and Gates said that they "generated tens of millions of dollars in income" from work they did for Yanukovych, who was president of Ukraine from 2010-2014, the Ukrainian government, Yanukovych's Party of Regions, and the Opposition Bloc, a successor party formed after Yanukovych was driven from power by pro-European protests and fled to Russia.
The indictment alleged that "in order to hide Ukraine payments" from U.S. authorities, Manafort and Gates "laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts" from about 2006 through 2016 at the earliest. It said that they also hid their work and revenue as agents of Ukrainian political parties.
Court documents unsealed on October 30 also showed that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser for Trump's presidential campaign who was arrested in July, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians.
The documents showed that through "false statements and omissions," Papadopoulos "impeded the FBI's ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the campaign and the Russian government's efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election."
Trump poured derision on Papadopoulos in another tweet on October 31, saying: "Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar."
U.S. intelligence officials concluded in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an "influence campaign" targeting the 2016 election in the United States, aiming to undermine confidence in the U.S. democracy, tarnish the reputation of Trump's rival, Hillary Clinton, and help Trump.
Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May to lead the Justice Department's investigation, which is conducted in parallel with U.S. congressional probes.
In his remarks asserting a lack of references to Russia or evidence of Russian meddling, Peskov made no mention of Papadopoulos or the documents in his case, which include many specific references to Russia and Russian officials.
Peskov said that Russia hoped new developments in the U.S. probe will not increase what he asserted was already "mounting Russophobic hysteria" in the United States. He did not give examples to support that description.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also repeated Russia's denials, saying that allegations of Russian meddling in elections in the United States in Europe were "fantasies."
The comments from Peskov and Lavrov came hours before executives of Internet giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google were due to testify before a Senate panel investigating the alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election.
The Senate judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism on October 27 said the executives would be among witnesses at a hearing on "ways to combat and reduce the amount of Russian propaganda and extremist content online."
With reporting by CNN, The New York Times, Reuters, AP, and AFP