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Responding to Mueller report, Russia dismisses sweeping evidence of interference

After the release of the Mueller report, what does the Kremlin think about the special counsel's evidence of a sweeping Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election? Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote, who has lived in and reported extensively on Russia, talks to Judy Woodruff about Moscow's dismissive reaction and why Russian business operatives fear additional U.S. sanctions.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to our coverage of the Mueller report, and in particular to the central importance of Russia to the entire story.

    Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote was in Russia all week for us, and knows many of the Russians named in the special counsel's 400-plus page report. Ryan also has covered Russia for decades. And he joins us tonight from his home in London.

    So, Ryan, hello again.

    It's now been over a day. Is there an official reaction from the Russian government to this report?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Yes, there is, Judy.

    In fact, I just got off the phone with Dmitry Peskov. He's the Russian president's spokesman. He's — also got a lot of attention in the Mueller report himself. He was in 18 sections going all the way back to 2015 in relation to the Trump Tower project in Moscow. The people in the Trump team were liaising with him.

    Look, he says it's very simple. There's nothing new, he says, in this report that changes anything. There's no evidence, he says, of collusion, no evidence of Russia's meddling.

    As for Russian businessmen trying to — acting as intermediaries for the Russian president, trying to establish these back-channel conversations with members of the administration, he says, yes, Russian businessmen were trying to talk to members of the new administration, but there's nothing strange about that. They were, yes, also briefing the Russian president. Nothing strange about that either.

    He says that's simply what businesspeople do — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Mr. Peskov is also saying, we gather, that they're going through the report to determine whether they should brief President Putin. Of course, he can read it on his own, but what is the expectation, that he will read it?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    I think he will read it. I think that's a fair assumption.

    After all, he was in the KGB. He did run Russia's intelligence services. That's exactly what you're supposed to do in intelligence and counterintelligence work, is learn what your adversary or your rival knows about you and learn how they learned it.

    There's an awful lot of very specific allegations or evidence in that Mueller report. And, of course, he's going to want to know all of that, I would have thought. In addition to that, of course, while the Russians may feel that this might absolve President Trump of some wrongdoing, they will realize that their troubles are probably not over.

    There are at least a couple of bills right now in the U.S. Congress that could lead to more sanctions being imposed against Russia. So, it's not just the Russian president that will be interested in reading this report. I have spoken with several Russian businessmen since the report came out, and they all start the conversation by saying to me, "Hey, Ryan, am I in there?"

    Because they're concerned that they, too, could be sanctioned if they are in the report, and that, of course, would be bad for business.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, just quickly, Ryan, as we know, this report accuses the Russians of systematically having a sweeping interference in U.S. elections.

    President Trump, though, is still not accusing the Russians directly. How do they read that in Moscow?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    They actually mirror President Trump quite often. You will remember, when the attorney general's summary of the Mueller report came out about a month ago, the Russians, just like President Trump, said that it absolved them, it exonerated them of any kind of responsibility.

    They are, obviously, you know, very pleased. Remember Helsinki. I was at that press conference where President Trump and President Putin stood next to one another, and President Trump said that he believed President Putin when President Putin told him that Russia had not interfered.

    That said, the Russians were very concerned about what happened the next day, when Congress effectively took control over the relationship between the United States and Russia.

    I interviewed President Putin at an energy conference at the end of last year, and I asked, what did you want — he want to see in terms of relations with the U.S., and he said, look, I want them to sort out this, effectively, if you will, partisan conflict.

    He says, the Russians are simply being scapegoated. The Russians say, hey, you guys should sort this out, so we can start to work on a constructive Russian-American relationship.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, again, what the report says, after a two-year investigation, is that the Russians were clearly behind the sweeping interference in the elections.

    Ryan Chilcote reporting, thank you so much.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Thank you.

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