WASHINGTON (CN) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday again denied his country directed the series of hacks that helped win Donald Trump the presidency, though he allowed “patriotically minded” Russians may have.
Speaking in Moscow to the senior editors of the world’s leading news agencies, Putin said the Russian government itself was not involved in the hacks, which resulted in scores of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta trickling out throughout last year’s election, but allowed that private citizens might have been responsible.
“If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions which are right, from their point of view – to the fight against those who say bad things about Russia,” Putin said, according to the New York Times.
Putin’s comments come just days before he is scheduled for an interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, which the former Fox News host cast as the “first time that he’ll be taking questions from an American journalist since the special counsel was appointed in the United States to look into allegations of Russian interference in our election.”
The interview will air on Sunday in Kelly’s debut with her new network following her departure from Fox.
The investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election have ramped up in recent weeks, culminating with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s inquiry on May 17.
Pressure mounted on Rosenstein to make such a move after Trump suddenly fired former FBI Director James Comey last month. Concern over the firing intensified when the New York Times reported days later that Comey had written a memo detailing a conversation he had with Trump in which the president asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is now serving as the independent counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, has given Comey permission to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee when Congress returns from this week’s recess.
A date has not yet been set for the hearing and it is unclear what Comey will be able to say about his interactions with Trump given the ongoing investigation.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post on Wednesday reported the Trump administration is planning on returning two diplomatic compounds to the Russian government. The Obama administration in December expelled the Russians from the compounds, one in New York and the other in Maryland, as part of punishments put in place against the country for its attempts to influence the election.