Donald Trump’s spokeswoman says that if there was any contact between members of the president-elect’s campaign and the Russian government, she was not aware of it.
“I do not know of any campaign official that was communicating with any foreign entity during the campaign,” Hope Hicks, Trump’s longtime spokeswoman, told Yahoo News on Thursday.
She said this after a top Russian diplomat told the state-run Interfax news agency that there was a routine line of communication between Moscow and the Trump campaign during the lead-up to Tuesday’s presidential election.
“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. “Those people have always been in the limelight in the United States and have occupied high-ranking positions. I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives.”
Ryabkov said that Russian officials are just beginning to consider how to set up formal channels of communication with the former reality television star’s future administration. He also said he reached out to Hillary Clinton’s campaign but was rebuffed.
Throughout the campaign, Trump and his campaign repeatedly denied having any connection with the Kremlin, while the U.S. government said it believed Russia was behind a series of cyberattacks aimed at influencing the election. The attacks released thousands of embarrassing emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that FBI had conducted a preliminary investigation into possible electronic communications between the Trump Organization and servers connected to a Russian bank, but the bureau failed to find a direct link. The bureau reportedly concluded that the interaction could have been a coincidence.
During the third and final presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee accused him of being a “puppet” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“You’re the puppet,” Trump fired back. “You’re the puppet.”
Two days before, Trump said he could see himself meeting with Putin before his inauguration.
On Wednesday, Interfax reported that Putin will be in New York this week for a chess tournament a few blocks away from Trump Tower. But Putin’s spokesman said there were no immediate plans for a summit with Trump.
When the election was called for Trump, the Russian Parliament erupted in applause. Putin congratulated Trump on his victory and said Russia is “ready to fully restore relations with the United States.”
But Ryabkov said that Moscow is not harboring any “rose-tinted” hopes about such a thawing.
“We are not expecting anything in particular from the new U.S. administration,” he said.
Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly praised Putin and took a relatively soft stance against Russian aggression. Among other things he echoed the Kremlin’s talking points about its annexation of Crimea, backed Russia’s military intervention in Syria and would not fully commit to defending Eastern European members of NATO if attacked by Russia.
During an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” late last year, Trump explained why he defied U.S. leaders on both sides of the aisle to embrace Putin.
“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader,” Trump said when host Joe Scarborough brought up allegations that Putin kills journalists. “Unlike what we have in this country.”