WASHINGTON - White House National Security Adviser John Bolton told his Russian counterpart that his country’s interference in the 2016 presidential election didn’t affect the outcome but has nonetheless damaged relations with the U.S.
“The point I made to Russian colleagues today was that I didn’t think, whatever they had done in terms of meddling in the 2016 election, that they had any effect on it,” Bolton told Echo Moskvy, according to a transcript provided by the U.S. Embassy. “But what they have had an effect in the United States is to sow enormous distrust of Russia, and it’s a major obstacle to achieving agreement on issues where our national interest may converge.”
Bolton’s assertion that the Russian interference was ineffective was in line with his boss, President Donald Trump, who has grudgingly accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion the Kremlin meddled in the election but insists the activity didn’t help him win.
Bolton also said in the interview that the U.S. is serious about plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and is consulting on the issue with allies in Europe and Asia.
Trump declared he plans to pull out of the accord Saturday at a campaign rally in Elko, Nevada. Bolton noted that Iran, China and North Korea aren’t parties to the treaty, leading to a “very unusual circumstance where the United States and Russia are in a bilateral treaty, whereas other countries in the world are not bound by it.”
Bolton said he also discussed with his counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, extension of a broader nuclear arms treaty called New START that limits the number of deployed missiles, bombers, and warheads the U.S. and Russian can maintain.
“We’ve discussed various possibilities around the new START treaty, what may happen, but the U.S. government as I say does not have a position that we’re prepared to negotiate,” Bolton said. “The treaty doesn’t expire until early in 2021, so we have plenty of time.”
Bolton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday and has a meeting planned with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
U.S. intelligence agencies have found that Russia in 2016 launched an effort to hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and ultimately to help Trump win. Special counsel Robert Mueller in July announced indictments of 12 Russian officials in the GRU military intelligence agency for allegedly orchestrating the hacks of Democratic party organizations and Democratic officials. Trump has called Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt.”
Members of Congress from both parties have pressed the administration to impose tougher sanctions on Russia to punish it for election meddling.
The U.S. last week charged a Russian woman with conspiring to interfere with the current 2018 midterm congressional elections along with the 2016 election. U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies have warned of ongoing efforts by Russia, along with other foreign governments, to interfere in the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections.