Russian Leaders Downplay Latest Links Revealed In Trump Jr. Emails

Jul 12, 2017
Originally published on July 12, 2017 5:34 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now let's get the view from Moscow on this unfolding controversy about the Trump campaign's connections to Russia. NPR's Lucian Kim is in Moscow. Hey there.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How much of a story is this in Russia? Is it dominating the airwaves the way it is here in the States?

KIM: (Laughter) Well, today it isn't a story at all. The main news in Russia is about a policeman who shot his ex-wife and father-in-law. So the coverage today has been really minimal. But it's not that this whole issue of alleged Russian meddling isn't covered. It has been and the state media covers it. But it's much more portrayed as a political campaign waged against President Trump by his domestic enemies. The basic storyline is these enemies, namely supporters of Hillary Clinton, are using so-called Russophobia to prevent an improvement in U.S.-Russian relations.

SHAPIRO: Many of the characters at the center of this story are in Russia. What have we heard from them? I mean, for example, the lawyer that Donald Trump Jr. met with, the oligarch who, according to the emails, was trying to help the Russian government campaign against Hillary Clinton - what are they saying?

KIM: Well, the lawyer in question - her name is Natalia Veselnitskaya - she's actually been quite upfront and has spoken to several American media outlets. But her line is that she was interested in talking to Donald Trump Jr. on behalf of a client who was affected by U.S. sanctions, and that as far as, you know, having any kind of damaging information on Hillary Clinton that she'd had none and that she had no Kremlin connection.

You also asked about the billionaire who is kind of a real estate mogul here. His name is Aras Agalarov. He's been much more quiet about this. But a Russian radio station did manage to reach him today and he called this, the actual correspondence that was published yesterday, the email correspondence, he called it an invention, a fabrication.

SHAPIRO: That's even though Donald Trump Jr. himself released these emails. What about from the Russian government? What have they said about this? I understand Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke today.

KIM: Well, Sergey Lavrov is known for having quite a sharp wit and a sharp tongue. He said he was amazed when he heard the news today. He said two people were accused of talking to each other, and he called the coverage - actually, he used the word barbaric. And he said serious people are making a mountain out of a molehill. We also heard from President Vladimir Putin's spokesman. His name is Dmitry Peskov. He said that to call the lawyer in question a government attorney - he used the words absurd and inappropriate. He said the Kremlin doesn't have the slightest relationship to this lawyer.

SHAPIRO: So it sounds like the overarching message from most facets of Russian society is nothing to see here. This is fake news. It's made up. Pay attention to something else. And yet this is consuming the American public, news media and, to some extent, the government just after a G-20 meeting where President Trump and Vladimir Putin talked about cooperation on a range of issues. Are Russian leaders afraid that this controversy could undermine their interests?

KIM: Possibly. I mean, it's interesting. Putin's spokesman, Peskov, he also said he didn't really think it was a coincidence that these revelations came out now. But he also said that - you know, he was asked, will it be harder for Trump to make concessions now? He said, we understand that Trump is under a lot of pressure, but he didn't promise any concessions and we're not expecting any concessions from him.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Thanks a lot.

KIM: Thank you.

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