Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed any notion that he has compromising information on President Donald Trump, saying in a Fox News interview that Trump wasn't important enough to bother with when he visited Russia five years ago.
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace gave Putin an opportunity to review a paper copy of the indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officers who are charged in the United States with the Bitcoin-funded hacking of Democratic organizations and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
As if demonstrating his lack of interest, Putin smiled and refused to accept the document.
"I really wish for your American listeners to listen to what I say," Putin said in the contentious interview, which was billed as his first with a U.S. media outlet since June 2017. "Russia has never interfered in the internal affairs of the United States, let alone its elections."
Pressed by Wallace to addressed the specifics in the indictment, Putin replied: "Interference with the domestic affairs of the United States — do you really believe that someone acting from the Russian territory could have influenced the United States and influenced the decisions of millions of Americans?"
Putin said he wasn't even slightly interested in the indictment, dismissing it as a tool being used in the "internal politics" of the United States.
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"That's none of my business," he said, contending that special counsel Robert Mueller hadn't sent any requests for Moscow's help with his investigation through normal channels.
In any event, Trump was just another businessman when he traveled to Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant, 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," Putin said
Even if Moscow had been interested in Trump at the time, Russia doesn't have the resources to "manage the total state of control" that such an operation would have entailed, Putin said.
"That's not part of our plans," he said. "And it's clear that we did nothing of that kind of against Mr. Trump."
At a joint news conference with Trump after their meeting Monday in Helsinki, however, Putin indicated that his interest had been piqued by the time it became clear that Trump could win the 2016 presidential election.
"Yes I did. Yes I did" want Trump to win the election, Putin told reporters. "Because he talked about bringing the Russian relationship back to normal."
Trump said he took Putin at his word, telling reporters that "he just said it's not Russia."
"I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump said, sparking a storm of criticism from fellow Republicans back home.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., called Trump's remarks "the most serious mistake of his presidency."
And Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, complained that "sometimes, the president cares more about how a leader treats him personally than forcefully getting out there and pushing against things that we know have harmed our nation."
"And I thought that's what we all experienced today," Corker said.
On other topics in the Fox News interview, Putin credited Trump with having led North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table and told Wallace that Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 was, in fact, the democratic choice of the Crimean people.
Putin also strongly opposed proposals to expand NATO by adding Crimea and Georgia, warning the Western alliance against moving any closer to Russian territory.
"For us, well, it's a direct and immediate threat for our national security," he said. "... The reaction would be extremely negative."
And he strongly defended Russia's actions in Syria, blaming the United States and "the terrorist groups" — specifically naming ISIS and the Syrian rebel al-Nusrah Front — for the deaths of civilians.
"It might seem dubious to some people, but in fact it is true: In terms of Syria, American aviation bombed the city of Raqqa, bombed it quite heavily," he said. He changed the subject when Wallace pressed him about widespread reports, some from the United Nations, blaming Russian jets for having killed thousands of civilians in Syria.