— -- On Friday, March 31, 2017, ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos interviewed Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on ABC's "Good Morning America". The following is an extended transcript of the interview:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Mr. Peskov, thank you for joining us this morning. We heard President Putin yesterday. (overtalk) We heard President Putin yesterday say: Read my lips. There was no interference, Russian interference, in the U.S. election. As you know doubt know that read my lips promise here in America was later overtaken by events. Are you confident that President Putin’s denials will not be contradicted by new evidence?
DMITRY PESKOV, RUSSIAN PRESS SECRETARY: We're quite confident. We're confident for 100 percent. Actually, this campaign, we've been saying from the very beginning, that it was nothing else but slander. And then all those fake news having nothing beneath and having no evidence, were nothing else but slander. And that's why we'll continue to suggest to everyone insisting that Russia was interfering in this or that way in -- into domestic affairs of the United States, we will suggest them to read Mr. Putin's lips.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, we'll, we've heard the denials but -- and you've stood by those denials. In the face though of a unanimous finding from U.S. intelligence, what would be the motive for fabricating that kind of a finding about Russia?
PESKOV: Well, actually, this is something that we are sorry about. The fact that our country and our bilateral relations has become kind of a victim -- victim and let's -- well a victim in domestic play. And there are certain people in the United States and they want to and they insist on, upon using Russian card in their game, but domestic game. We're very sorry about that and we consider it wrong actually because, well, further damage to our relationship is not in the interest of our people, people of the United States and people of the Russian federation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You -- you say it's a domestic game yet this is the intelligence community and the Senate intelligence community here in the United States, part of our Congress, have held an open hearing, public evidence and it shows that Russian state actors with the association of Russian intelligence were responsible for hacking the DNC and leaking those emails.
PESKOV: But you now what is interesting about that -- yes we've been hearing those accusations for quite -- for a long period of time. But at the same time we failed to learn any evidence. And this is ridiculous, the only -- the only public material that we have seen, it was a part, an open part, of a report by intelligence services that -- that could be easily compared with pulp fiction -- nothing else. I mean it was a very low-quality document and we know nothing about any, any, any concrete evidence. But, and I'm afraid that -- that this special services will simply fail to produce any concrete evidence.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the conclusions is that Russia was trying to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. You said yourself that it's natural that Putin would prefer Trump. Why?
PESKOV: It's very simple, listen for example we have -- variety of politicians in every country. And we have a variety of politicians in the United States. Some of them are saying that we are in favor of reestablishing good relationships with Russia. We think that we have lots of problems and we – we are sure that we will not be able to agree upon everything but we are sure that we have to have a dialogue with the Russians. This is one [inaudible]. The other [inaudible] is those who say, No, Russians are our enemy and we are strictly against any context with them. And we don't give a damn about their -- their interests and then we reject any possibility of cooperation even when it is in our own interest.
Let's say in a field of combating terror. So which one would be more sympathetic for you? For us, the one who is saying that, Yes we disagree in lots of things but we’re going to talk to Russians. This one is more sympathetic.
PESKOV: So the reason is very simple.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So President Putin did prefer Donald Trump?
DMITRY PESKOV: No, it's not about preferring someone, it's about -- whose ideas are more close to you and whose ideas are more welcomed in Russian public opinion. Let's not forget about public opinion in our country. It's very influential and it's very powerful.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Public opinion here in the United States about President Putin is quite unfavorable. Only 9 percent of Americans in a recent poll have a favorable opinion of President Putin. Only 9 percent see Russia as an ally. Is that a problem for President Putin?
PESKOV: It's not a problem, but this is something that we're sorry about, again. We understand those figures because quite for – well, for how many months? For more than a year, American audience have been a target for severe anti-Russian propaganda.
And they were -- of course they fell victim of that propaganda and that's why lots of Americans, they do think that yes, Russian hackers are everywhere. Russian hackers are in every fridge, Russian hackers are in every iron and so on and so forth. But this is not true. Those are fake news and this is slander.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We heard overnight that Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, is now seeking immunity to talk to the FBI and also the investigating committees in the Congress. His lawyer says he has a story to tell.
Are you concerned about anything he might say about his contacts with Russia?
PESKOV: No, we're not. No, we're not. Listen, we insist, we insist that any blamings that Russia could have been interfering in domestic affairs of the United States is slander. And it has no evidence at all.
Again, what -- we understand pretty well that there are some people who are doing their best, their utmost, to keep this issue on the agenda. Well, let them do it before the audience is bored and before they change their subject.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, General Flynn did have documented contacts with Russian officials, including the ambassador, Kislyak. And it's now been reported that they discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia.
You initially denied that. Do you now accept that they did in fact discuss sanctions?
PESKOV: Well, listen. You know what is ambassador's job? To have as many contacts in political establishment as possible. This is the job of Russian ambassador in Washington, of American ambassador to Moscow and of every ambassador in every country of the world.
And our ambassador in Washington is performing his job from 100 percent. And he's a brilliant diplomat, but he's not a spy. And this is a perverted perception of ambassador's job to say that every contact with a Russian ambassador is potentially dangerous and potentially can put in a line of activities interfering in domestic affairs.
This is totally wrong. This is totally wrong. And, to the contrary, because ambassador is working on establishing relationship, on enhancing relationship. On making those relationship more mutually beneficial.
So that's why, well of course they had contact, and then -- please do not try to get me involved in your domestic agenda. We do not want to know who was supposed to mention what, what contact and who was supposed to declare what contact. It's not our business.
But having contacts with Russian ambassador or with Russian representatives -- in this or that field -- does not mean interference in Americans' affairs -- domestic affairs.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It wasn't --
PESKOV: I would like to ensure you in that --
STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that. It was rather unusual for President Putin not to retaliate after those sanctions were imposed by President Obama because he -- following conclusions that Russia did interfere in our elections.
Did that failure to retaliate have anything to do with the message that General Flynn gave to Ambassador Kislyak?
PESKOV: Well, listen -- sanctions or issue of lifting sanctions or imposing sanctions, any promises, could not be an issue of those contacts. Because none of them, neither Ambassador Kislyak nor General Flynn, could have been involved in decision-making.
So any exchange of view, I don't know. Naming sanctions, let's remember, let's remember the -- let's say the decisions that were taking by the then-administration during their last days in the White House: extradition of Russian diplomats. I would even say occupation of Russian diplomatic property in New York and Washington.
This is something that was never seen in diplomatic affairs in the world for lots and lots of decades. Let's imagine property of the Russian Federation, covered with diplomatic immunity, was occupied by American Secret Service agents. I mean -- well, is it friendly? I'm afraid no. I'm afraid not.
And it's not friendly, it's not legal in terms of international law. So, of course, it was a very significant damage for our bilateral relations, organized as a farewell party by the then-administration in Washington.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Before President Trump took office, around that time, you said U.S.-Russian relations are at a bottom, comparable to the lowest points in history. Is that still the case?
PESKOV: Well, yes it is. Yes, it is. We're patient enough to wait until we understand what are the approaches of the present administration. We understand that they -- the present administration still needs time to be more precise in formulating their main ideas in terms of Russia.
We are waiting. We -- Russian side is ready to be as active as American side is ready. So, yes, we're at the lowest possible point. And it was mentioned, by the way, by Mr. Putin yesterday night in the city of Arkhangelsk on Arctic forum. It is very dangerous for us to have these low relations, that low relationship.
But we hope for the best and we are ready for the best --
PESKOV: We are ready for the dialogue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If we're at the lowest point in history, that means we're in a new Cold War.
PESKOV: Thanks God. We've never been at nuclear war. And I hope --
STEPHANOPOULOS: New Cold --
PESKOV: -- we will not.
STEPHANOPOULOS: New Cold War.
PESKOV: New Cold War. New Cold War, well maybe even worse. Maybe even worse, taking into account actions of the present presidential administration in Washington.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Worse than the Cold War?
PESKOV: Well, of course. Of course. Well, I've been just saying about this illegal actions against Russian property in Washington and New York, about extradicting Russian diplomats and all that stuff.
I mean, exchanging of unfriendly statements, rejecting any possibility of cooperation and interaction in combating terror, especially in Syria and so on and so forth. So it's not something that contributes to global stability and security.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What is President Putin's impression of President Trump?
PESKOV: Well, I simply cannot answer this question because they had couple of telephone conversations. The first one when President Putin congratulated Mr. Trump with his victory and the second one upon his inauguration.
(The conversation experienced technical difficulties.)
STEPHANOPOULOS: What is President Putin's impression of President Trump?
PESKOV: I don't think I can answer this question because they – they haven't met before.
They had only two telephone conversations. The one – the one upon Mr. Trump's victory and the second one upon his inauguration. So this was – these were the only contacts.
And telephone contacts, of course, cannot give you the perfect picture of each other's personality. But at least, during those contacts, and before the election, we've seen some tweets by – by Mr. Trump saying that, that he was in favor of getting in dialogue with the Russian Federation to try to understand each other's concerns.
And this is of course is – was welcomed in Moscow.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think that's changed since the election?
PESKOV: I beg your pardon?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think President Trump's attitude has changed since the election?
PESKOV: No, I don't think so – I don't think so. Well, of course Russia is a –a, let's say element, of American election campaign, was on the agenda to some extent but the influence of that element could have hardly been critical.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who of course you know and President Putin knows as well, took a rather hard line this morning. Talking about NATO, he said, the NATO alliance is fundamental to countering both nonviolent and at time violent Russian agitation and Russian aggression. Your response?
PESKOV: Well, actually, it is rather a job of our representatives from the Foreign Ministry to respond to Secretary of State's statements but, nonetheless – well of course I – we cannot accept a word of aggression when someone is referring to Russia.
Russia has never been an aggressor. Russia has always been a country contributing to global stability and security. A country heavily involved in combating terror.
And, of course, we would always disagree with any – any words like, like aggression in – in our address.
Mr. Tillerson has always been quite a tough negotiator and we understand that he's using – he's using lots of information and materials that have been prepared by those people in, in State of Department who, well modestly, speaking are not the fans of my country and of revival of bilateral relationship between America and Russia.
But, nonetheless, we understand that – that the more contacts Mr. Tillerson is going to have with his Russian counterpart, the more opportunity he would have to update this information, to refresh it and to understand each other's concerns in a better way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You said that President Putin and President Trump are very much alike in their basic approach to international relations, how so?
PESKOV: This is really what, how it looks alike. They both – they both insist on their priority as national interest.
So one is standing for national interest of the United States and the other one for the national interest of the Russian Federation. And they understand pretty well that sometimes it is in your national interest to conduct good relationship with a counterpart, ensuring that those relationship are mutually beneficial and ensuring that, that you are really ready to take into account each other's concern.
This is a great similarity between them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That, now infamous, dossier prepared by Christopher Steele said the Russian Federation President Putin has compromising information on President Trump, your response?
PESKOV: Well, well, it's against – again it's slander. It's nothing else. It's nothing else to comment on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And finally, this week we saw something -- some rare protests in Moscow. They seem to rise up in response to that video by the dissident Alexei Navalny, who said he wants to run against President Putin, documenting the wealth of Prime Minister Medvedev's yachts, mansions, villas. How could the prime minister afford that on a government's salary?
PESKOV: Well, listen, we're all as – as bureaucrats, or people who are –who work for state, every year we present our declaration of our incomes and expenditures to our special organs who control and double-control this declaration from A to [inaudible].
That's why all our, let's say, incomes are really very, very, well, transparent to those organs who need these information and who are in charge of combating corruption in our country.
So that's why – let's say, the populistic blamings that some – sometimes we – we find in press, that we find in statements of a – of various activists, they do not correspond with reality because of course those activists, they cannot simply know the information that is known for special services.
And then – but, again, fighting with corruption is highly, is an issue, is a problem. It's highly on the agenda in our country. And, the society is totally intolerant for that. That's why yes – well a week ago we saw some protests in our country in various cities.
In various cities it was done in a legal way. In some places, like in Moscow, it was done in illegal ways. So, they didn't want to notify the mayor's office in a way it is prescribed by the law.
So, that's why this action of protest in Moscow was illegal. Of course it did cause some arrests throughout those people who were involved in these illegal action. It's a regular practice for every country and we see lots of actions and lots of arrests, let's say, counteraction by policemen in lots of capitals over the world.
STEPHANOPOULOS: In recent weeks and months, we've seen worst than arrests for some Russian dissidents, as you know. Is President Putin concerned by the poisoning for the second time of the opposition leader, Vladimir Kara-Murza?
PESKOV: Well, listen, first of all, we don't know what was the reason of that illness of Mr. Kara-Murza. We never heard any, any, any, let's say, informations from medics saying that he was really poisoned by some, by any substance.
So, that's why I would rather keep that issue – keep that case aside from any political forum, any provocation. I think those are totally different dimensions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the killing of Denis Voronenkov who, former Russian parliamentarian, who has also been a critic of President Putin?
PESKOV: Well, you know, it's a terrible tragedy. It's a terrible tragedy and we actually – we hope that Ukrainian side will be capable of conducting a necessary investigation in that.
That's a real tragedy. A man who abandoned his homeland, who decided to move to Kiev, unfortunately found himself in a country and in a city with a more and more dominating role of nationalist and ultra elements. And, a very dangerous environment.
And, we [inaudible] sorry for his family, for his children. And, we hope that necessary investigation will be conducted.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, how can U.S.-Russia relations get back on track?
PESKOV: I think if two presidents meet each other, if they exchange views and if they decide that they want to reestablish a dialogue, then there will be chance for our volatile relations to get better.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Peskov, thanks for your time this morning.
PESKOV: Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was great, sir. Thank you very much.
PESKOV: Thanks. Thanks a lot. Thank you.