-- Russian President Vladimir Putin today disputed claims that his government was behind the recent hack into the Democratic National Committee's computer systems, but he appeared to condone the subsequent leak of information from the breach, suggesting that it could be helpful to the American public.
"Does it matter who broke in? Surely what's important is the content of what was released to the public," Putin said in an interview with Bloomberg News at an economic forum in Russia's far east. "That's what the discussion should be around. There's no need to try to distract public attention from the essence of the problem with questions of secondary importance connected with the search for who did it."
The FBI said it believes with a "high degree of certainty" that hackers who broke into the DNC's research database and files containing thousands of emails from Democratic Party officials were linked to Russian intelligence services. A spate of other recent hacks, mostly targeting Democratic Party organizations as well as state electoral systems, have raised alarms among U.S. intelligence officials that Moscow is trying to influence the U.S. elections.
Asked by Bloomberg about the allegations, Putin laughed them off.
"I don't know anything about that," he said, chuckling in the interview with Bloomberg's John Micklethwait. "You know, there are so many hackers today, and they work with such minute precision, so finely." Putin added that hackers are able to "camouflage their activity under the activity of other hackers from other areas, other countries."
"In any case," he said, "we definitely don't do such things at a state level."
The DNC hack was first reported in June, when the suspected intruders were found to have accessed party research into the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as well as the private emails of dozens of Democratic Party officials. Since then, further alleged Russian-linked breaches have occurred, with U.S. intelligence officials saying they suspect Russian-connected hackers may have been involved in passing 20,000 emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign to the whistleblower site WikiLeaks and, most recently, of possibly breaking into voter registration systems in two states.
The FBI and security experts brought in to examine the DNC intrusion traced the attack to hacker groups they said are known to be linked to Russian intelligence services. CrowdStrike, the private cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate, said it identified two groups — dubbed Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear — that are believed to be controlled by Russia's foreign and domestic intelligence agencies, respectively.
Clinton's campaign staff has accused Putin of trying through the leaks to tilt the presidential race in favor of her opponent and has accused Trump of supporting policies friendly to the Russian government, noting his expressions of admiration for Putin. Clinton's campaign manager, Robert Mook, has suggested that Trump may be a "puppet" for the Kremlin.
Trump's campaign has strongly denied any links to the Russian government or untoward support for the country's policies.
The Republican nominee has seemed to enjoy sporadic attention shown him by Putin, such as when the Russian leader called Trump "colorful" and "very talented."
Trump, for his part, has called for warmer relations with Russia and questioned the need for NATO — a position that would delight the Russian president.
In July, Trump alluded to questions surrounding Clinton's use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state and jokingly said, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."
In the Bloomberg interview, Putin called allegations that Trump is backed by the Kremlin "nonsense."
Putin said that Russia had no stake in either the Democratic or the Republican nominee and criticized both for using what he called "shock tactics," seeming to refer to the two candidates' sometimes brutal attacks on each other.
"They are both intelligent people," he said. "They know how to push the right buttons."
"I don't think they're setting the best example," Putin said. "But that's the political culture of the United States. You have to take it as you find it."