Hillary Clinton’s team members met with the Russian ambassador during the election as well as Donald Trump’s, the Kremlin spokesman has alleged, as he set out to dismiss the “hysteria” surrounding Mr Trump’s links to Russia.
The house intelligence committee will hold its first session on Russia on March 20, with the heads of the FBI, national security agency and CIA expected to appear, plus previous intelligence chiefs.
But Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for Vladimir Putin, said on Sunday that America was “self-humiliating” in insisting that Russia hacked its election.
And he defended the actions of their ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, whose meeting with Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s choice of national security adviser, caused Mr Flynn to lose his job. He was fired after just 24 days when it became clear that he had lied about meeting the Russian, and misled the vice president.
“This is his job,” said Mr Peskov, speaking on CNN’s Sunday morning politics show. “He was talking about bilateral relations, about what is going on in the United States, so we have a better understanding in Moscow.
“This is what happens all around the world.”
He said that members of Mrs Clinton’s team had also met with Mr Kislyak, although he did not give specifics.
“Well, if you look at some people connected with Hillary Clinton during her campaign, you would probably see that he had lots of meetings of that kind,” he said. “There are lots of specialists in politology, people working in think tanks advising Hillary or advising people working for Hillary.”
Mrs Clinton’s team is yet to comment on the allegations.
But earlier this month Foreign Policy reported that no one from the former secretary of state’s campaign met with Mr Kislyak or any other Russian official. The magazine also reported that all the other candidates kept the embassy “at arm’s length”.
And supporters of Mrs Clinton would point out that the problem did not come from meeting the ambassador, but rather failing to disclose it.
Mr Peskov said Moscow was upset about the cloud of suspicion. Mr Trump’s administration has been dogged by a continued stream of reports about ties to Russia, which has infuriated the president and energised his opponents.
“The fact that Russia is being demonised in that sense comes very strange to us,” said Mr Peskov.
“And we are really sorry about that. Because the whole issue takes us away from getting the situation to a better position.
“Quite unexpectedly, we were in the position where Russia became, shall we say, a nightmare for the United States.
“You are self-humiliating yourself to say that a country can intervene.
“America, a huge country – the most powerful country in the world, with very, very stable political traditions – and you say that a country can easily intervene and easily influence your electoral process? This is simply impossible.”
He insisted that Russia “has never had, and never will have, any intention to intervene in another country’s affairs”.
Asked about whether he expected Mr Trump to lift sanctions, Mr Peskov said that President Vladimir Putin would not raise the issue first. There is no date yet for a meeting, but the pair will both be at the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July.
Mr Putin, he said, was pleased that Mr Trump defeated Mrs Clinton, but he insisted that Russia did not intervene.
“The candidate Hillary Clinton was quite negative – declaring Russia the main evil, the main threat,” he said.
“Whom would you like better – the one that says Russia is evil? Or the one that says yes, we disagree, but let’s find points of agreement?”
He said his initial contact with Mr Trump was “quite promising”, but Russia was increasingly disappointed with the response from the Trump administration.
“We don’t have a proper understanding of the future,” he said. “We certainly would expect our contacts to be more frequent, more in depth, because we had quite a significant pause.
“We were losing potential by blaming everything on Earth on each other.
“We do worry. Public opinion – if you load with a huge burden of fake news, fake blaming on Russia, repeat every day numerous times that Russia is interfering, guilty of trying to hack, that everything that goes wrong in the country is the fault of Russia.
“We want to see this hysteria coming to its logic end. Better sooner than later.”