Evidence of collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia could still come to light, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has suggested, even though the indictment handed down last week against Russians and Russian companies did not indicate that an American was knowingly involved in US election meddling.
A portion of the 13 Russians that were indicted last week for allegedly meddling in the 2016 election are said to have communicated with “unwitting” individuals associated with the Trump campaign, according to court documents.
“It’s very clear from this 37-page indictment that this was a massive Russian operation and part of its design was to promote the campaign of Donald Trump,” Congressman Adam Schiff told radio station WNYC.
The charges were brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the federal probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential race. Multiple congressional panels, including the House Intelligence Committee, are also investigating the matter.
Asked if he believed the investigation would claim “witting participation” with Russia by anyone working for Mr Trump, Mr Schiff said it was clear that the president was aware of Russia’s hacking and dumping of documents. The intelligence community had said in October 2016 that Russia was seeking to influence the election at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behest, Mr Schiff noted.
He continued: “Then-candidate Trump used this information on a daily basis to denigrate Hillary Clinton ... and we know there were conversations about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton between very high levels of the campaign, including the president’s own son, son-in-law and campaign manager met in the secret meeting at Trump Tower where the Russians had offered to send someone out from Moscow ... who was part of the Russian government effort to help elect Donald Trump.”
There was uproar in Washington last year following revelations that Mr Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, had met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer after being promised ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton.
Mr Schiff, a frequent target of the President’s attacks on Twitter, told CNN earlier that the indictment against the Russian nationals in no way clears the Trump campaign of collusion.
A spokesman for the Kremlin said on Monday that the US indictment presented no tangible proof that the Kremlin itself or Russian government agencies were involved in the scheme to interfere in the election.
“They [the Americans] are talking about Russian citizens, but we have heard in announcements from Washington accusations about the involvement of the Russian state, the Kremlin and the Russian government,” Mr Peskov told reporters on a conference call, according to Reuters.
He continued: “There are no indications that the Russian state could have been involved in this and nor can there be any. Russia did not meddle, does not have the habit of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, and is not doing so now.”
The charges last week partially centred on a Russian businessman, Evgeny Prigozhin, who has been nicknamed “Putin’s chef” by the Russian media. The owner of restaurants and catering businesses that have hosted Mr Putin’s dinners with foreign dignitaries, Mr Prigozhin is said to have extensive ties to Russia’s military and political establishment.
According to the indictment, Mr Prigozhin is accused of funding the internet firm, the Internet Research Agency, that allegedly served as a hub from which the defendants and other co-conspirators used social media to “sow discord in the US political system”.
Mr Prigozhin said on Friday he was not upset about his indictment for alleged election meddling in the US, the RIA news agency reported.
“The Americans are very emotional people, they see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I am not at all upset that I am on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them,” Mr Prigozhin is quoted as saying.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it tried to influence the 2016 election, casting such allegations as part of an anti-Russian campaign in the US.
Mr Trump has also denied allegations of collusion.
Over the weekend, he took to Twitter multiple times to fume about the Russia investigation, falsely claiming he never said Russia didn’t meddle in the 2016 election. He also attacked former President Barack Obama, saying his predecessor was aware of Russia’s interference “and did nothing”.
Last year, Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security under Mr Obama, said the Obama White House purposely delayed making a statement about the Russian hacking.
“We were concerned that by making the statement we might, in and of itself, be challenging the integrity of the election process itself,” Mr Johnson testified to the House Intelligence Committee.