WASHINGTON – Buffalo-area political consultant Michael R. Caputo wants to testify publicly before a House committee that asked to interview him privately about his involvement in the Donald Trump campaign and Russian interference in last year's presidential election.
A source told The Buffalo News on Monday that Caputo wants to appear in public before the House Intelligence Committee because he is angry that one of its Democratic members, Rep. Jackie Speier of California, raised questions about him and his wife at a March hearing on the Russia issue.
Caputo referenced Speier in a letter to the committee last Friday, saying: "I thought that, since she brought my wife and myself into this matter in front of millions of television viewers, she might be willing to hear me out."
In any appearance before the committee, Caputo -- who lived and worked in Russia for several years -- is also likely to cite some social media evidence that he is by no means allied with the Russian government.
Twitter posts from last summer show him to be highly critical of Wikileaks and its ties to Russia. Last July 25, for example, Caputo said Russia was responsible for Wikileaks' release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails.
"Sure, we're having fun with the @wikileaks #DNCleak, but this is a provocation by @KremlinRussia_E and must be dealt with," Caputo tweeted that day.
The New York Times reported Saturday that the House Intelligence Committee -- which is investigating Russia's involvement in trying to influence last year's election to benefit Trump -- wants to interview Caputo.
"The interview may cover any topic within the publicly announced parameters of the committee's investigation, including Russian cyber activities directed against the 2016 U.S. election, potential links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns, the U.S. government's response to these Russian active measures, and related links of classified information," the committee said in a May 9 letter to Caputo.
Caputo responded in a letter last Friday, saying he appreciated the opportunity to speak to the committee.
"I am more than willing to provide input to help clear my family, my colleagues and the president of the United States of these baseless allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia," Caputo wrote.
But the source said Caputo prefers that any such appearance be in public so that he can let his feelings be known about that March 20 hearing and what Speier said that day about him working to boost Russian President Vladimir Putin's image in the 2000s. Caputo originally asked for an opportunity to speak to the committee the day after the hearing.
At that hearing, Speier said Caputo "worked with Gazprom-Media to improve Putin's image in the United States," adding: "In 2007, he began consulting the Ukrainian parliamentary campaign. There he met his second wife."
From there, Speier asked then-FBI Director James Comey and then-National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers a question: "What possible reason is there for the Trump campaign to hire Putin's image consultant?"
To which Comey replied: "No thoughts." And Rogers replied: "Likewise, ma'am."
A spokesman for Speier could not be reached for comment, and an Intelligence Committee spokeman declined to elaborate on its request to interview Caputo.
Caputo worked on Russian political campaigns in the 1990s and for Gazprom-Media, which backed Putin, in the early 2000s. But he indicated in his letter to the Intelligence Committee last week that he is anything but "Putin's image consultant."
Working for the Trump campaign from November 2015 to June of last year, Caputo never had any contact with Russian government officials or employees, he said in the letter.
"At no time during this period – before and thereafter – did I ever discuss Russia with the President or any campaign representative, donor or volunteer," Caputo wrote. "The only time the President and I talked about Russia was in 2013, when he simply asked me in passing what it was like to live there in the context of a dinner conversation."
In the letter, Caputo then pointed to that July 2015 tweet in which he tied Wikileaks to Russia, which is one of several he wrote along the same lines.
Also on July 25, for example, Caputo tweeted: "@wikileaks is the Russians, full stop."
Caputo's tweets stood in sharp contrast to what Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, was saying at the time.
"The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me," Trump tweeted on the very same day that Caputo tied the DNC email leak to Russia.