Did the Russian government interfere in the U.S. election? Did Russian President Vladimir Putin collect damaging information on President Donald Trump?
Putin provided his perspective in the exclusive inaugural episode of “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” after NBC News’ Megyn Kelly posed both of those questions to the Russian president.
Kelly met Putin in St. Petersburg, the Russian president’s hometown and his nation’s onetime capital, after sharing a contentious discussion about Russia’s attempts to hack the 2016 election at the St. Petersburg World International Economic Forum. Putin, a former KGB agent, has been painted as the puppet master behind the challenge on November’s voting.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Putin ordered the disruption of the election. During the interview, Putin tried to dismiss the evidence by claiming that the United States has a history of meddling in foreign elections.
“Put your finger anywhere on a map of the world, and everywhere you will hear complaints that American officials are interfering in internal electoral processes,” he said.
Kelly pushed back at the assertion, saying it sounded like Putin’s attempt to justify his government’s attempts to influence elections.
“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” he said. “But, I repeat, we don’t even have to do that. Presidents come and go, and even the parties in power change, but the main political direction does not change.”
Putin claimed that Russia has a preference in an election but only reacts to the “political direction” that the United States seems to be heading in.
“It wouldn’t make sense for us to interfere,” he said.
The conversation later turned to a pre-campaign dossier that was purportedly collected on Trump.
Asked whether “you have something damaging on our president?” Putin — who once worked as a KGB recruiter — replied: “Well, this is just another load of nonsense. Where would we get this information from?”
“Why, did we have some special relationship with him?” Putin asked. “We didn’t have any relationship at all. There was a time when he used to come to Moscow. But you know, I never met with him. We have a lot of Americans who visit us.”
The well-known spin master then attempted to turn the tables.
“Right now, I think we have representatives from a hundred American companies that have come to Russia,” Putin said. “Do you think we’re gathering compromising information on all of them right now or something? Have you all lost your senses over there?”
Kelly concluded by asking Putin about and the Russian Federation’s recent history of corruption, repression and silencing of dissidents. He dismissed the allegations and again told the United States to avoid moralizing.
“Why do you feel you have the right to ask us these kinds of questions? And do it all the time? To moralize and to give us lessons on how to live?” he said. “We’re ready to listen to comments when it is done constructively, with the goal of establishing a relationship, creating a common environment. But we will absolutely not accept when these sorts of things are used as an instrument of political conflict.”