The leader of Russia’s opposition offered his strongest comments yet on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election on Tuesday, saying that he’s inclined to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin really did give incriminating information about Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump’s son during last year’s U.S. presidential campaign.
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Alexei Navalny, who published a statement on his official website hours after news of the email correspondence between Donald Trump Jr. and an intermediary promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton broke, added that the “crown prosecutor of Russia” mentioned in the emails – a position that doesn’t exist in that country – is actually Russia’s prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika.
In 2016, Navalny published an investigative report about Chaika’s corruption, which was widely covered in the independent Russia media and led to demonstrations against the government. “The fact known to all is that Chaika is a thief and a criminal,” Navalny wrote.
He also pointed out that Chaika has close ties with Aras Agalarov, the oligarch who was mentioned in the emails as the intermediary between the “crown prosecutor” and the Trump campaign. Agalarov had worked with Trump to organize a Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
When the corruption allegations against Chaika first surfaced, Navalny noted, Agalarov was one of the first and only people to come to his defense. He even published advertisements in the papers condemning the authors of the investigative report about Chaika and comparing them to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister.
Chaika wasn’t ousted over the corruption allegations, and he was therefore at Putin’s mercy to keep his job, Navalny added. That made him the perfect candidate to pass on incriminating information that Putin wanted to leak to the Trump campaign.
“This is very credible,” he wrote. “I have no doubt that Putin (the intelligence agencies) could use the Chaika-Agalarov axis to make contact with Trump and give him information via a trusted contact ... In any case, the Putin-Chaika-Agalarov chain of information transmission seems very realistic. Nothing here is forced.”
"The Crown prosecutor of Russia ... offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," said the June 3, 2016, email to Trump Jr. from publicist Rob Goldstone.
"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," according to the email Trump Jr. posted on Twitter.
"If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer," Trump Jr. partly replied in the exchange, which he said represented the entire chain of his emails about the meeting.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters that the president applauded his son's transparency in releasing the emails and viewed him as a "high-quality person," referring all other questions to Trump's and his son's lawyers.
Trump Jr. and his younger brother, Eric Trump, run the Trump Organization, which their father headed before going to the White House.
Reuters contributed to this report.