A former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump ― who also happens to have years of experience shilling for the Russian government ― is defending the Kremlin’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
Michael R. Caputo, a public relations strategist who helped secure Russian President Vladimir Putin’s election victory in 2000, accused the U.S. of also interfering in foreign elections.
The Republican operative claimed Russia’s meddling wasn’t a big deal, alleging that former President Barack Obama had attempted to influence an Israeli election.
“I don’t know if we hack or phish emails,” Caputo told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Monday. “I’m not sure we’re on par, but we both get involved in foreign elections in our own way to try to tilt them in our favor.”
The statement echoes the Trump camp’s latest talking point about the investigation into whether it colluded with Russia during the campaign. Supporters who previously denied any collusion or election meddling took place are now claiming such practices as perfectly legal.
Caputo also said Monday that he didn’t consider the authoritarian Putin regime, which has been behind countless human rights abuses, to be a “hostile foreign power.”
“Unless I woke up and I didn’t hear the news, we’re not at war with Russia,” he said, adding that he sees nothing wrong with Trump’s refusal to take a harder stance against Russia’s cyberattacks.
Several U.S. officials, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), have repeatedly deemed Russia a foreign adversary. But Caputo claimed such lawmakers are “absolutely” wrong about Russia.
“I see a unique opportunity here to work with Russia,” Caputo said. “We often are looking at different priorities as nations, but we have a lot in common.”
Caputo’s friendly attitude toward Russia follows a decades-long relationship with the innermost circles of the country’s top political players. Caputo moved to Russia in 1994 to work for the re-election campaign of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, largely seen as the corrupt political puppet of several wealthy Russian billionaires. Later, Caputo helped run a propaganda campaign for a Russian government-owned media outlet to help get Yeltsin’s successor, Putin, elected to office in 2000.
Caputo is one of several Trump associates who has been questioned as part of federal investigations into potential links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. He has denied having ties to the Kremlin during his tenure with the Trump campaign.
Over the weekend, Caputo gave several interviews defending Donald Trump Jr. for meeting in June 2016 with Russian operatives, including a Kremlin-linked lawyer and a former Soviet military officer. Trump tweeted his gratitude for Caputo.
Caputo claimed Sunday during an interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly that the meeting merely showed the “naiveté of [Trump Jr.’s] first experience in a political campaign.”
“Donald Junior made a mistake,” Caputo told Kelly. “And he’d do it entirely differently if he had an opportunity.”