'Utterly ridiculous': Putin rejects claims of Russian influence in 2016 election

 
 
Updated 7/17/2018 6:43 AM
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  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, gestures Monday during an interview with "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace after his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki, Finland.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, gestures Monday during an interview with "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace after his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki, Finland. Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday dismissed claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election as "utterly ridiculous," pushing back against the Justice Department's indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers in a wide-ranging interview with Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace.

"Do you really believe that someone acting from the Russian territory could have influenced the United States and influenced the choice of millions of Americans?" Putin asked in the interview, after Wallace showed him a copy of the indictments. "This is utterly ridiculous."

The 30-minute interview aired hours after President Donald Trump and Putin held a news conference in Helsinki, where Trump repeatedly dismissed U.S. intelligence findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election and criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe as "a disaster for our country."

The Justice Department on Friday indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic computers as part of a broad subterfuge operation to help Trump win the election.

Asked about the timing of the indictments, Putin said he was "not interested in this issue" and described the Mueller probe as belonging to "the internal political games of the United States."

"Don't make the relationship between Russia and the United States - don't hold it hostage of this internal political struggle," he said, adding that "it's nothing to be proud of for American democracy, to use such dirty methods in the political rivalry."

Even as he rejected the notion that Russia had interfered in the election, Putin defended the veracity of the information that was revealed in the Democratic National Committee's hacked emails, which were made public by WikiLeaks in July 2016.

"Was it some rigging of facts? Was it some forgery of facts? That's the important point that I'm trying to make," Putin said. "Was any false information planted? No. It wasn't."

He added that, given the embarrassing information about internal Democratic Party processes revealed by the emails, "an apology should be made to the public at large instead of looking for the party at fault."

In the interview, Putin also pushed back against suggestions that Russia may have compromising material about Trump, saying "it's clear that we did nothing of that kind of against Mr. Trump."

"We don't have anything on them, and there can't be anything on them," Putin said. "I don't want to insult President Trump when I say this - and I may come [across] as rude - but before he announced that he will run for [the] presidency, he was of no interest for us."

Trump's statements at Monday's news conference prompted some Democrats to publicly speculate about the reasons behind his deference to Putin.

Earlier Monday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that Trump's performance in Helsinki "proves that the Russians have something on the president, personally, financially, or politically."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., sounded a similar note, saying of Trump's behavior: "It's inexplicable - or maybe it's not."

"The one person he hasn't blamed is the person he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with this morning, Vladimir Putin," Schumer said.

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The Washington Post's Philip Rucker, Anton Troianovski and Seung Min Kim in Helsinki contributed to this report.

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