When Fox News host Chris Wallace asked President Vladimir Putin of Russia whether Russian hackers had tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election, he gave an unusual answer: The hacks had exposed some Democrats who put their thumbs on the scale to help Hillary Clinton, and that was what mattered.
Putin made the comments in a Fox News exclusive interview Monday evening after his two-hour, one-on-one summit with President Donald Trump and their joint news conference.
Wallace tried to press Putin on a topic that Trump all but dismissed during the news conference — the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers who the special counsel investigating interference in the 2016 election said were acting in their “official capacities” when they hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton presidential campaign.
Putin refused to acknowledge a paper copy of the indictment that Wallace tried to hand him.
“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 said.
He went on: “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.”
The hackers, he said, entered “a certain email account and there was information about manipulations conducted within the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of one candidate.”
In July 2016, shortly before the Democratic National Convention began, the website WikiLeaks began posting a trove of emails hacked from Democratic National Committee officials. The emails indicated that top party officials were working to support Clinton over the insurgent candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Those hacks sowed discord between the Clinton and Sanders camps that has never fully healed, and prompted the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, to resign. In the indictment by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, prosecutors indicated that the timing of the leaked emails was intended to create as much chaos for the Democrats as possible.
Putin, who did not address who he thought was responsible for the hacks, focused on what was revealed.
“As far as I know, the entire party leadership resigned,” Putin said. “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.”
During the news conference, Putin answered bluntly when asked whether he had wanted Trump to win the election. “Yes, I did,” he said.
In his conversation with Wallace, Putin took pains to diminish Trump’s stature as a businessman to insist that he would not have been a target for manipulation by Russia.
The “St. Petersburg Economic Forum was visited by 500 businessmen,” Putin said of a meeting held in Russia. “Pretty much every one of them is a major industrial tycoon of greater scale than President Trump. Do you think that our Special Services actually organized surveillance on each and every of them?”