Russian President Vladimir Putin denied possessing compromising information about President Trump and insisted Russia had no part in meddling in the 2016 U.S. election during a contentious interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace following a in Helsinki, Finland.
"We don't have anything on them, and there can't be anything on them," Putin said Monday in his first interview with a U.S. news outlet since June 2017. "I don't want to insult President Trump when I say this -- and I may come as rude -- but before he announced that he will run for presidency, he was of no interest for us. He was a rich person, but, well, there's plenty of rich persons in the United States."
In the 32-minute interview with Fox, Putin said Russia had no interest in Mr. Trump before he launched his bid for the presidency.
"He was in the construction business. He organized the beauty pageants. But no, it would never occur to anyone that he would think of running for president. He never mentioned his political ambitions. It sounds like it's utter nonsense," Putin said.
Mr. Trump and Putin held a joint press conference Monday afternoon after meeting one-on-one in the Finnish capital. Mr. Trump seemed to accept Putin's denial of interference, despite the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia did in fact meddle in the 2016 election.
Wallace read Putin a portion of thehanded down by a federal grand jury last week in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation that accused 12 Russian intelligence officers of breaking into Democratic computer systems and stealing emails and documents.
Putin smiled and laughed. Wallace then offered the document to Putin, but the Russian president signaled for him to place it down on a nearby table.
Putin ultimately said that the indictment, released just three days ahead of the Helsinki summit, was insignificant and he questioned why Mueller would not address the matter with the Russian government directly, pointing out the 1999 treaty about cooperation in criminal investigations
"Why wouldn't special counsel Mueller send us an official request within the framework of this agreement?" Putin questioned. "Our investigators will be acting in accordance with this treaty. They will question each individual that the American partners are suspecting of something. Why not a single request was filed?"
He also derided the idea that a Russian could have influenced millions of Americans' votes in 2016 -- "this is utterly ridiculous," he scoffed. But then he went on to say that "these hackers that are being discussed" had hacked into the Democratic National Committee and found "information about manipulations conducted within the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of one candidate." This was a reference to emails that showed some DNC officials favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.
Alluding to then-DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's ouster afterward, Putin went on to say that as a result, "the entire party leadership resigned. They admitted the fact of their manipulations."
Wallace retorted, "So, are you saying it's okay because the facts that they took from the DNC -- from John Podesta -- it was their real emails, so it's okay to hack, and spread this information out, and interfere with the election?"
"The information that I am aware of, there's nothing false about it," Putin said, without directly answering the question. He has in the recent past denied that the hackers were a part of a state-run effort to destabilize the U.S. election.
Having denied Russian interference in the election and the possibility that the Russian government may have blackmail on Mr. Trump, Putin said that the U.S. and Russia are "starting to achieve some understanding" between each other.
"I think this is the beginning of the path. This is the start. We did make a good start today," he said.
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