Vladimir Putin said he “couldn’t care less” about the charges of election meddling against more than a dozen Russian nationals, insisting it was not a Kremlin-directed effort.
A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia indicted 13 Russians and three Kremlin-linked companies in February for attempting to sow discord and interfere in the 2016 presidential elections.
In an interview released on Friday, Putin told NBC‘s Megyn Kelly, “So what if they’re Russians? There are 146 million Russians. So what?…I don’t care. I couldn’t care less…They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.”
He claimed it was not Russia’s “goal to interfere” and appeared incredulous at the charges, asking, “Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away….influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous even to you?”
President Trump has also defended the Russian president, telling reporters in November, “[Putin] said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”
But U.S. intelligence concluded Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election with aims to help Trump, while special counsel Robert Mueller investigates the possibility of collusion between Russia and the president’s campaign.
Russian interference continues to loom over the U.S., with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and two other intelligence officials warning, “”The 2018 U.S. midterm elections are a potential target for Russian influence operations.”
When Putin was asked whether he was concerned that Russian citizens were undermining democracy in the U.S., he suggested his hands were tied.
“We in Russia cannot prosecute anyone as long as they have not violated Russian law,” he said. “At least send us a piece of paper… Give us a document. Give us an official request. And we’ll take a look at it.”
The Russian president also cast his own country as the victim of punishing U.S. sanctions.
But Putin said he was willing to “sit down calmly, talk and figure things out,” going on to say, “I believe that the current president wants to do that, but there are forces that won’t let him do it.”