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A name that arose during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was that of Oleg Deripaska, a wealthy self-made businessman, and according to the U.S. government, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin. In a rare interview with Deripaska, special correspondent Ryan Chilcote asks the aluminum magnate about the Mueller report.
During the special counsel's investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the presidential election, one of the Russian names that comes up is Oleg Deripaska. He is a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.
"NewsHour" special correspondent Ryan Chilcote landed a rare interview with him.
He starts with some background.
He is a self-made tycoon, one of Russia's wealthiest businessmen, who controlled, for years, one of the world's largest aluminum producers, Rusal, and a number of the nation's industrial giants, employing hundreds of thousands of Russians.
Like other Russian magnates, the U.S. government says Oleg Deripaska is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. Over the last two years, Deripaska's name has come up in American news reports as a figure with ties to some of the targets of special counsel Robert Mueller's now concluded Russia investigation.
Deripaska's interactions with the eventual chairman of President Trump's 2016 campaign, Paul Manafort, go back years. More recently, Deripaska and Manafort came into a financial dispute, with Deripaska charging that Manafort owes him millions of dollars.
In an e-mail revealed by The Washington Post by an associate by the name of Konstantin Kilimnik, who the U.S. believes has ties to Russian intelligence, Manafort even considered on his own whether to give Deripaska private briefings about the campaign.
Last year, the U.S. slapped sanctions on Deripaska and his company. At the time, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the aim was to hit at the Russian government. While the sanctions against Deripaska remain, they have been lifted from some of his largest holdings, after Deripaska agreed to reduce his stake and control in the firm.
And where are you going now?
Today, I sat down with Deripaska in Nizhny Novgorod, home to GAZ, Russia's largest maker of commercial vehicles, a company still under American sanctions.
Do you feel that the attorney general's summary of the Mueller report has exonerated you?
I never felt guilty. I'm not a subject, first of all, as you know.
But, in my view, it was so bizarre to claim that Russia made any important role in those elections.
We know from the court document the special counsel has laid out pretty extensive evidence that Russia did interfere in the election, not just in the digital landscape, but in real ways, by organizing protests.
The evidence that they have already laid out in various court filings is pretty convincing, no?
I don't believe in this, to be honest. I live in Russia. I know what Russian state capable, know Russian bureaucrats capable.
I just don't believe that they're so sophisticated to be part of it. Just don't believe it. If they're so sophisticated, why we have such a bad economic situation?
If you're such a believer in Mueller and the process of justice, why didn't you — when the special counsel sent you written questions, why didn't you answer the questions?
It was advice from my lawyer. He just said to me, don't bother. They will settle this thing without you.
That's an easy way out.
Then why wouldn't you just say, I have absolutely nothing to hide, I'm happy to talk to you, here are my answers?
I don't understand.
First of all, I have my right to do so.
And second, when I saw the list of question, some question I had nothing to do with, they were very preposterous, and, as I said, my lawyer just said, don't bother.
How often do you talk to intelligence leaders in Russia?
You also believe in it.
Just a question.
I never talk to anyone who was on duty.
When you were sanctioned, you know that the U.S. government said that you benefited and were part of Russia's malign activity around the globe.
It's all a lie.
And wait a second. First of all (INAUDIBLE) produces list of 100. And you have quite a lot of experience in Russia. Do you really believe that all 100 people, as you said, how you said, close, part of this Mueller activity?
They just put trade in all Russian private business. Do you really believing they're all guilty in something?
President Trump has repeatedly said he believes President Putin when President Putin says Russia didn't interfere in the election.
Do Russians appreciate those kind of comments from the U.S. president?
I think they don't care, to be honest. And, at this moment, Russia more cares about the economic situation in Russia.
And how have the sanctions affected the Russian economy?
No, it's a stalemate. Russian economy not growing. There is, of course, no surplus in the Russian budget because of oil, and — but it's a Russian budget. It's a state, bureaucrats.
Ordinary people feel a lot of pressure. Russia is a part of global economy. And when you U.S. tried to weaponize on wrong — on ill-advised, their financial system, of course, Russia is a weak player in this case. The cost of that opportunity to attract capital, everything has been affected.
When you use it, you know, like in the case of this factory, what on earth brought anyone to believe that (INAUDIBLE) 40,000 people who work here and 300,000 who supply them, it will affect Russian foreign policy? It's a private factory. What would change?
The argument, as you know, is that it's a private factory owned by you, and that, if you're close to the Kremlin, and the Kremlin obviously relies on the taxes that this factory could bring, or does bring, that that could change the Kremlin's behavior.
It's very, very straightforward logic.
But if it's wrong, and if this factory goes bankrupt, if me and other investors will — lost everything, without any proof that this may affect this way, as you describe. First of all, it's stupid to believe that something like this could change Russian government behavior, just stupid. It's just another confirmation how far are you from reality.
How have the sanctions changed your life?
Completely. More free time.
You believe that you have lost $7.5 billion as a result of the sanctions?
How do you come up with that number, $7.5 billion? How do you…
I just look at my shelves. What they be worth now what they're worth? Look at the opportunity which has been lost even on this side (INAUDIBLE) stopped working. We have an assembly facility here, and 3,000 people, 3.2 thousand people — 3,200, already lost their jobs.
When was the last time you corresponded or someone that you work with, representing you corresponded with Paul Manafort?
Ten or '11.
2010 or 2011?
Yes, '11, yes.
On July 7, two weeks before President Trump accepted the Republican nomination, Manafort sent an e-mail to Konstantin Kilimnik, where he said: "If he needs private briefings, we can accommodate."
The he in that e-mail is you. And the private briefings were to be about President Trump's then campaign.
Do you believe in this now? First…
I'm confused. What wouldn't I believe about the e-mail?
No, but after what has happened with all this Mueller investigation, it's quite a — quite an old story.
I never met Kilimnik. Again, Manafort and others from this team, almost 10 years, work on Ukraine. I tried to sue him, and my lawyers were looking for him almost two years, couldn't find him, you know, for those two project which he failed to perform.
And, actually, my lawyers suspect it's more than just failure to perform. And do you believe that, after all of this, he will offer me some kind of gesture of something?
Did you ever get any briefings from anyone associated with Paul Manafort about the U.S. campaign?
No. Why — why…
Did you ever get the offer of any briefings?
What would be — what would be my benefit to see anything which I could go through (INAUDIBLE) determined now on Google?
Did you ever get any polling data?
Paul Manafort is sitting in jail now. How do you feel about that? Do you feel this is poetic justice for you?
It's not my game. I feel maybe sorry. He's old guy.
Oleg Vladimirovich, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.
Thank you. Thank you.
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Ryan Chilcote is a PBS NewsHour Special Correspondent. Based in London, Ryan has been reporting on foreign affairs and economics in Europe, the Middle East and Africa since 1995.
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