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Trump maintains ‘no collusion’ after Russian indictments

On Friday, the Justice Department indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies, accusing them of meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. Russia's foreign minister has called the charges “blather” as President Donald Trump maintains there was “no collusion.” Kimberly Marten, a professor of political science at Barnard College and Columbia University, joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    A day after a stunning indictment by the U.S. Justice Department which accused 13 Russians and three Russian companies of meddling in America’s 2016 presidential election, Russian and American government officials responded. Russia has repeatedly denied influencing the presidential election. Today, at a security conference in Munich Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he had, “no reaction” to the indictment.”

  • SERGEY LAVROV:

    “So until we see the facts, everything else is just blathered. I beg your pardon for not really diplomatic wording.”

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    At the same conference, America’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster said the evidence of Russia’s meddling is clear.

  • H.R. MCMASTER:

    “We’re becoming more and more adept at tracing the origins of this espionage and subversion. And as you can see with the FBI indictment the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain.”

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The indictment by Special Counsel, Robert Mueller detailed a coordinated scheme by Russians to interfere in the U.S. electoral process, boost President Trumps presidential campaign and undermine Hillary Clinton. The indictment alleges that the Russians posed as Americans on social media and bought misleading online ads, staged political rallies in the US without revealing their Russian identities or backing, and solicited and paid Americans to promote or disparage candidates. President Trump has called Russian meddling in the election a “hoax” and took to Twitter yesterday to reiterate his claim there was “no collusion” and that the Russian interference began in 2014 before he was a presidential candidate.

    For more on the Russia indictments and the fallout, I’m joined by Kimberly Marten, a professor of political science at Barnard College and Columbia University. No surprise that the Russians said today, we don’t have the facts, this isn’t us etc etc.

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    The facts are pretty incontrovertible assuming that they can back up the statements that they made in the indictment because they got these people not merely on election interference but on things like wire fraud and identity theft. And what’s really interesting is that they seem to have access to emails and phone calls and internal documents that give the details about how the Internet Research Agency was divided up and as a corporation. So I mean the amount of evidence that they appear to have is really incredible.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    One of the things that the president comes about and says is, look this is an exoneration, this just says no collusion, This happened before I was even a presidential candidate. It seems that Rod Rosenstein is kind of splitting the middle here. On the one side he says the amount of evidence is overwhelming and we’re presenting it to you. Notice that he didn’t actually say that this is the totality of the Russia investigation.

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    And you know we don’t really know if there is more behind this but one of the important things that the indictment does is act as a deterrent for other Russians that might want to intervene in the 2018 mid-term elections which we’ve heard as a real possibility because the fact that they’ve got this incredibly in-depth information means that if they caught these people they can catch other people too. And by indicting them it essentially prevents them from traveling abroad because anybody who has an extradition treaty with the United States is going to arrest them if they appear on their territory. So that includes you know virtually all of Europe, it includes Israel, it includes large parts of East Asia and that’s a real deterrent for anybody doing this again if you realize that the Justice Department is going to get you.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So the sanctions or the penalties that are being put on these individuals -this is in the context of an administration that isn’t taking large scale sanctions against Russia?

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    Right. So it really is a way the Department of Justice punishing Russians and creating a deterrent for other Russians to intervene in future elections even though it seems like the Trump administration is moving really slowly and reluctantly on implementing the sanctions that Congress has put into place.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But one of the interesting characters that comes out of this is the person is known as the ‘chef.’ Who’s the chef behind all of this?

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    Yevgeny Prigozhin. His history is sort of interesting. He started off as a young person, a sort of a shady person who was imprisoned for robbery and other crimes and then he was one of the entrepreneurs who just sort of took the opening up of the Soviet Union to establish a little restaurant. And somehow, he caught the eye in St. Petersburg of Vladimir Putin who is from St. Petersburg and who knows exactly where the relationship started. But he started directing people towards the guy’s restaurant and then now we know that he’s a major contractor for the Russian Ministry of Defense. And what’s really interesting is that he’s a contractor for the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU. And so this same man, Prigozhin, has also been accused of doing the contracts for the Russian contractors that have been serving in Ukraine and Syria, officially not as Russian military troops. And so, he’s been in the news twice this week because he was also in the news when there was that incident of the Russian contract forces being hit by U.S. airstrike in Syria, and the Russian state not wanting to take responsibility for the fact that it happened. But Prigozhin with the contractor for that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Kimberly Marten of Columbia and Barnard. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    Thank you Hari.

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