Donald Trump said on Sunday that he has never been briefed about Russian efforts to help Bernie Sanders win the Democratic presidential nomination.
The US president went on to accuse the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee of leaking election security information from a classified briefing.
Mr Sanders acknowledged on Friday that he was briefed last month by US officials about Russian efforts to boost his chances to be the nominee against Mr Trump in November.
Speaking to reporters before leaving for a trip to India, the president said: “I read where Russia is helping Bernie Sanders.
“Nobody said it to me. Nobody said it to me at all. Nobody briefed me about that at all … They leaked it.”
He accused Democrat Adam Schiff, the committee chairman who played a lead role in Mr Trump’s impeachment, of leaking information from a classified briefing.
“Schiff and his group, they leaked it to the papers and as usual,” the president said.
“They ought to investigate Adam Schiff for leaking that information. He should not be leaking information out of intelligence. They ought to investigate Adam Schiff.”
Nice deflection, Mr. President. But your false claims fool no one.
You welcomed Russian help in 2016, tried to coerce Ukraine’s help in 2019, and won’t protect our elections in 2020.
Now you fired your intel chief for briefing Congress about it.
You’ve betrayed America. Again. https://t.co/WlMDaz8stF
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 23, 2020
Mr Schiff said Mr Trump’s accusation was false.
“Nice deflection, Mr President. But your false claims fool no-one,” Mr Schiff tweeted.
“You welcomed Russian help in 2016, tried to coerce Ukraine’s help in 2019, and won’t protect our elections in 2020.”
Mr Schiff also claimed that Mr Trump recently “fired” Joseph Maguire as acting national intelligence director for “briefing Congress” about election interference from Russia.
“You’ve betrayed America. Again,” Mr Schiff tweeted.
A nearly two-year investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that there was a sophisticated, Kremlin-led operation to sow division in the US and upend the 2016 election by using cyberattacks and social media as weapons.
Intelligence officials have warned Russia is doing the same in 2020.
Conflicting accounts emerged from the recent closed-door briefing that election security officials gave to the House committee on interference by Russia and other nations in the 2020 campaign.
One intelligence official said that lawmakers were not told that Russia was working to directly aid Mr Trump.
But other people familiar with the meeting said they were told the Kremlin was looking to help Mr Trump’s candidacy.
It is unclear whether the committee members were also briefed about Russian efforts to boost Mr Sanders — a move that could be seen as beneficial to Mr Trump’s re-election bid.
“I think what it could be is, you know, the Democrats are treating Bernie Sanders very unfairly and it sounds to me like a leak from Adam Schiff because they don’t want Bernie Sanders to represent them,” Mr Trump told reporters.
Mr Trump’s national security adviser said he has seen no intelligence to show that Russia is interfering in the US presidential campaign in hopes of re-electing Mr Trump.