Fox News anchor Chris Wallace is widely thought of as one of the tougher interviewers in the TV news business, and he held Russian President Vladimir Putin’s feet to the fire during an interview after the Helsinki summit that aired tonight on Bret Baier‘s 6 p.m. news program.
Wallace interviewed Putin back in September 2005, so the Russian president and his team likely knew what they were getting into.
It was one of the more combative interviews one will ever see, with Putin responding to Wallace’s questions with phrases like “let me finish,” “have a little bit of patience,” and “that’s ridiculous.”
At one point, Wallace flashed a hard copy of Robert Mueller‘s indictment from Friday of the 12 Russian intelligence agents who have been charged with hacking into the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign:
WALLACE: I have here the indictment that was presented on Friday from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, that says that 12 members of Russian military intelligence, the GRU — and they talk specifically about Units 26165 and 74455 — they say — you smiled. Let me finish. They say that these units were specifically involved in hacking into Democratic Party computers, stealing information, and spreading it to the world to try to disrupt the American election. May I give this to you to look at, sir? Here.
Putin refused to touch it, then answered:
PUTIN: Well, let me start answering your question with something a little bit different. Let’s look at it this way. People are talking about the purported interference of Russia with the election process in the United States. I mentioned this in 2016, and I want to say it now again — and I really wish for your American listeners to listen to what I say. First of all, Russia, as a state, has never interfered with the internal affairs of the United States, let alone its elections.
WALLACE: But sir —
PUTIN: Second point —
WALLACE: — this is the indictment. It shows — I have 12 names here. It talks about specific units of the GRU — Russian military intelligence. Is the GRU not part of the Russian state?
PUTIN: I will get to it. Just have a little bit of patience. Then you will get a full answer to your question. 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 choice of millions of Americans?
WALLACE: I’m not asking —
PUTIN: This is utterly ridiculous.
WALLACE: — whether they influenced. I’m asking whether they tried.
PUTIN: I’m about to answer. Well, this is the first point that I’m trying to make.
PUTIN: If you will have some patience, you will hear the entire response. I said this in 2016, and I say it now. The idea was about hacking an email account of a Democratic candidate. Was it some rigging of facts? Was it some forgery of facts? That’s the important thing that I am trying to — point that I’m trying to make. Was this — any false information planted? No. It wasn’t. These hackers that are being discussed — and I’ll get back to it; just bear with me for a moment — as we’re getting told, they hacked a certain email account and there was information about manipulations conducted within the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of one candidate. And as far as I know, the entire party leadership resigned. They admitted the fact of their manipulations. So, that’s one thing — that manipulation is where public opinion should stop, and an apology should be made to the public at large —
He also asked Putin if he “had anything” on President Trump considering the U.S. commander-in-chief’s reluctance to publicly criticize him.
WALLACE: I saw the news conference today. My opinion was a bit curious, because President Trump spent more time criticizing the Democrats and asking about the Democratic server than he did in criticizing Russia and asking about the GRU. There are many theories in the United States about why President Trump is so reluctant to criticize you, and I’d like to ask you about a couple of them. One is that you have something on him, kompromat. The other is that, as a skilled politician and a former KGB officer, you know how to play him. You use phrases like “fake news” and “deep state.” And my question is: do you find President Trump easy to deal with?
PUTIN: Well, the first point I’m about to make is — why did we take — talk about like this, polite people? Why should this come as a surprise? Was it worth going all the way to Helsinki, going through the Atlantic, to just insult one another and — well, it’s not exactly the diplomatic standard in the world. There is no need to go and meet a person if you just want to insult another person. We met to try to find a way for improving our relationship and not aggravating it or destroying it completely.
And the second part of the answer is whether we have something on them. We don’t have anything on them, and there can’t be anything on them. 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. 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.
At another point in the interview,Wallace came right out and asked why so many of Putin’s political rivals are dead. The Russian president’s response was something of a pivot, as he brought up the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
WALLACE: I need to ask you, domestically — not internationally, domestically, inside Russia — why is it that so many of the people that oppose Vladimir Putin end up dead or close to it? Former Russian spy and double-agent Sergei Skripal, the victim of a nerve agent attack in England. Boris Nemtsov, a political opponent, gunned down near the Kremlin. Investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, murdered in an apartment building. Why is it that so many people who were political enemies of Vladimir Putin are attacked?
PUTIN: Well, first of all, all of us have plenty of political rivals. I’m pretty sure President Trump has plenty of political rivals.
WALLACE: But they don’t end up dead.
PUTIN: Well, not always — well, haven’t Presidents been killed in the United States? Have you forgotten about — well, has Kennedy been killed in Russia or in the United States? Or Mr. King? What — and what happens to the clashes between police and, well, civil society, and some — several ethnic groups? Well, that’s something that happens on the U.S. soil. All of us have our own set of domestic problems.