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Caputo testifies he never spoke with Russians while working for Trump campaign

WASHINGTON – East Aurora political consultant Michael R. Caputo told the House Intelligence Committee Friday he had no contacts with the Russian government before, during or after working for President Donald Trump's campaign in 2015 and 2016.

"From the day President Trump announced his candidacy until Inauguration Day, to my knowledge I never spoke about his campaign with anyone remotely associated with the Russian government," Caputo said in prepared testimony that he released on his blog before the closed-door session of the committee. "At no time did I ever talk about Russian contacts with any member of the campaign. I certainly did not hear talk of collusion with Russia or any foreign nation."

Caputo reiterated that stance while speaking with reporters after his three-hour session before the committee in the Capitol.

"Today, I spent my time in front of the committee detailing the fact that I had no contact with Russia, that I never heard of anyone in the Trump campaign talking with Russians, that I never was asked questions about my time in Russia, that I never even spoke to anybody about Russia, I never heard the word Russia and we did not use Russian dressing," Caputo said. "There was absolutely no discussion of Russia on the Trump campaign to the day I left."

Caputo's appearance before the committee came as part of its investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign on behalf of Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee. The committee is also looking at whether the Trump campaign colluded with that effort.

The Senate Intelligence Committee and a special counsel are conducting parallel investigations – which may have taken on new urgency with this week's revelation that in the heat of the campaign in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer and a Russian-American lobbyist. Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and now a top White House official, also attended that meeting.

Intelligence Committee officials were interested in speaking with Caputo, a Republican who worked for the Trump campaign from November 2015 through late June of last year, because of his history of working as a political consultant in Russia in the 1990s. In addition, Caputo runs a public relations firm with a Russian partner, and it has offices in Moscow.

Asked why the Intelligence panel questioned him for three hours, Caputo said: "There was a lot of redundancy in the questions."

His lawyer, former U.S. attorney and State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco, said: "At some level, this devolved into a fishing expedition."

Committee members asked Caputo about "a litany of names" of individuals who somehow may be connected with the Russia probe, Vacco added.

Caputo said he wanted to testify publicly before the committee because of what Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. said about him and his wife at a public committee hearing on March 20. Instead, as it often does while conducting investigations,  the committee decided to interview Caputo privately.

At that March 20 public hearing, Speier referred to Caputo as Russian President Vladimir Putin's "image consultant." In his written testimony on Friday, Caputo vehemently disagreed.

He noted that he criticized the Kremlin in a July 2004 op-ed in the Washington Post, calling Putin's Russia "a nation so tolerant -- even complicit -- in organized crime."

Contrary to what Speier said, "those are not the words of a Russian president's publicist," Caputo told the committee.

Caputo also noted in his testimony that last July, he criticized the Russian hacking of 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 at the time.

Caputo also criticized Speier for mentioning his wife, Maryna, at that March hearing.

While his wife is Ukrainian, "not every Ukrainian woman is connected to President Putin," Caputo said in his opening statement. "In fact, few are. Maybe none. For a number of reasons, my wife certainly is not."

Soon after that March 20 hearing – which was televised – Caputo and his wife started receiving threats, he told reporters after the hearing. He said one person even threatened to burn down his house with his wife and children inside.

Caputo said he has asked Speier for an apology, but has not received one.

Speier didn't attend Friday's meeting. There, Caputo told the committee that his work for the Trump campaign was fairly narrow in nature.

"As director of the New York State primary campaign, based in Buffalo, I worked with autonomy because we had frustratingly rare and momentary contact with the national campaign," Caputo testified.

He also told the committee that later, while working for Trump's pre-convention planning team, he had little contact with the Trump campaign.

The only time Caputo spoke about Russia with Donald Trump came in passing at a 2013 dinner, Caputo told the committee.

"He simply asked: 'What was it like to live in Russia,'" Caputo said. "Our exchange may have lasted 30 seconds."

Caputo said the committee asked questions about his work in Russia during the 1990s, but he stressed that work is over and done.

"I lived in Russia more than two decades ago," he said in his closing statement. "Today, my Russia experience is a part of my business. But today I have no Russian clients, I have no Russian revenues and I have not since 2004."

Four members of the Intelligence panel attended the closed-door meeting: Republican Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida; Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California; and Rep. Denny Heck of Washington State.

None of the four lawmakers emerged from the meeting to comment on Caputo's testimony.

Caputo held forth for about 15 minutes afterwards, before about 20 members of the media, who had gathered and waited for the session to end.

Both in his closing statement and his appearance before the media, Caputo stressed that he believes there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

He told the committee: "I hope you’ll move swiftly to assure America there was no collusion, help dial back the rhetoric that has led to threats and violence – and to allow our free and fairly elected President of the United States to meet the objectives he was elected to achieve."

Caputo told reporters that he would also be willing to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and to be interviewed by the special counsel's office headed by former FBI director Robert Mueller.

He told the committee that his involvement in the Russia investigations is costing him big money – and that he had to tap into his children's college fund to pay his lawyers.

He tried to portray himself as a small businessman caught up in something way bigger than his own life.

"I’m a Bills fan. I’m not a Gucci-loafered lobbyist," he told the panel. "I’m not selling a book. I’m not a celebrity seeking publicity. I won’t be profiting in any manner from my appearance here today, or future appearances."

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