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Moscow Apologizes for Misrepresenting VOA Report

FILE - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at U.N. headquarters, Oct. 1, 2015.

Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman has apologized to a VOA reporter for remarks made by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a Tuesday news conference, in which he misrepresented Voice of America reporting in a way that served to undermine the agency's credibility.

Hours after Lavrov's remarks, Maria Zahkarova posted the apology on the Facebook profile of VOA Russian service reporter Danila Galperovich, who is based in Moscow.

In his Moscow news conference, Lavrov criticized a January 6 web report by Galperovich, who wrote that Russian officials uncharacteristically had not yet responded to detailed allegations from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian hackers interfered with the U.S. presidential campaign.

U.S. officials presented evidence in support of the allegations of Russian hacking to U.S. senators in the first week of January and in a declassified report released to news media on January 6 — the same day that the officials gave President-elect Donald Trump a more detailed briefing at Trump Tower in New York.

'Witch hunt'

Speaking Tuesday, Lavrov incorrectly said the VOA article had been published on January 9 — the same day that Russian officials issued their first formal response to the U.S. allegations, dismissing them as a "full-scale witch hunt." The foreign minister berated VOA for failing to report the Russian response, which did not come until three days after the article was published.

The minister accused Russian service journalist Galperovich of lying about Russia's reaction to the U.S. intelligence findings, and referred to his report as "junk" produced by a news organization "funded by the U.S. State Department."

"This is the kind of truth Voice of America carries," Lavrov said. "But in this case [Galperovich] was lying because by the time he made these statements, [various Russian officials] have spoken."

In a January 9 response to the declassified report, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the U.S. intelligence findings as "tiresome." VOA's Russian service reported on the Peskov remarks that same day.

Amanda Bennett, VOA director, said Lavrov was mistaken about VOA's reporting.

"VOA did publish Russia's response on the same day it was issued," she said in a statement. "What's more, VOA is funded by the U.S. Congress, not the State Department as Lavrov says."

In her Facebook post later Tuesday, Zahkarova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, acknowledged Lavrov's error. "Dear Danila, I apologize for the mistake: the article was written by you on January 6 instead of January 9 … a mistake is a mistake, and for that I owe you an apology."

Galperovich's January 6 report was headlined "Moscow Responds With Complete Silence to U.S. Intelligence Publication." In the article, Galperovich noted that two days had passed without any comment by Russian officials, who typically react quickly to U.S. accusations against Moscow. He reported that at the time, there had been no statements by the Kremlin, the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russian parliamentary committees dealing with foreign affairs or the Russian military.

'Unprofessional' preparation

Galperovich expressed dismay at the Russian foreign minister's handling of the matter.

"Lavrov's comments make it appear that VOA is deliberately spreading false information," he said.

Lavrov made his comments about VOA's reporting by reading from a prepared text in response to a question from Russian state-run TV network RT. Galperovich said it was not clear why Lavrov incorrectly stated the date of his January 6 report as being January 9.

"It was completely unprofessional of the Russian Foreign Ministry's media department to prepare such information for him," he said.

The declassified summary of the briefing report, released on January 6 by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally "ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election." It said that effort had evolved from trying to "denigrate" Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to expressing a "clear preference" for then-Republican candidate Trump.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that it tried to intervene in the race.