Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the Value Voters Summit, Sept. 9, 2016, in Washington.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the Value Voters Summit, Sept. 9, 2016, in Washington.

Republican candidate Donald Trump says he is not convinced by allegations that Russia is trying to manipulate the U.S. presidential election through cyberattacks.

Trump says it is "pretty unlikely" that the Kremlin is involved in hacking attempts targeting the U.S. election system. He delivered his assurance in an interview broadcast by the Russian-funded television network RT America.

The interview, broadcast Thursday by RT America, followed Trump's public praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, rating the Kremlin chief as a stronger leader than U.S. President Barack Obama.

Trump's comments have been widely criticized by American political figures and by his election opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has previously denounced the Trump campaign organization for its close relations with Russian business interests.

Trump's political opponent, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, has criticized Trump for weeks for alleged relations between Trump's associates and Russian business people.

Putin has denied any involvement in recent cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee and a separate Democratic group involved in campaigning for congressional candidates.

However, William Courtney, a senior fellow at the non-profit Rand Corporation and former U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia, told VOA Friday it is "pretty clear" that Russia is "heavily involved" in the cyberattacks.

Courtney said the hackers' "signatures" - fragments of their software recovered from computer systems they penetrated, and the techniques they used - indicate the intrusion was carried out by Russian groups.

Trump's RT America interview was conducted by veteran American broadcaster Larry King, who now works for the Russian-funded network. King said he and Trump have been friends for decades, and a Trump spokeswoman said the interview was recorded as a favor to King.

Aasked about news reports asserting that Russia carried out the recent hacks against Democratic Party targets, Trump said he was unconvinced.

"I think it's probably unlikely," he said. "I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows? I think it's pretty unlikely."

Role in Cyberattacks?

In addition to Courtney's comments about Russian involvement in the political hacking attacks, several U.S. lawmakers also told VOA they believe Russia is involved in the controversial intrusions.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch because Russia’s been engaged in cyberattacks against the United States,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas.  “These are well known to our national security experts.  So no, it does not surprise me.”

“We know Russia has been very active in cyberattacks in the United States, and we know that they mine for information all the time,” said Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. “Nothing surprises me about Russia.”

However, Republican Dan Coats of Indiana, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wants to see definitive proof of Russian involvement before he points any fingers.

“We are going to need to find the factual basis to come to a conclusion, but given the ability today to basically intercept anybody’s communications, we are all vulnerable to that," Coats said.

Trump has expressed the desire to strengthen U.S. ties with Russia, which is subject to U.S. economic sanctions for its annexation of Crimea and aggression toward Ukraine.  

RT America, operating since 2005, is an increasingly influential propaganda network for the Russia government. It is based in Washington and controlled by its parent company in Moscow.