Putin’s brutal on-air staredown
VLADIMIR Putin laughed at a reporter and ignored him as he tried to show him an indictment which alleges Russian interference in the US 2016 election.
In his first television interview after an extraordinary joint press conference with US President Donald Trump , the Russian strongman repeatedly told Fox News journalist Chris Wallace to stop interrupting him in a fiery early exchange.
Mr Putin began by praising Mr Trump and describing how productive the greatly-anticipated meeting with the US leader had been. He said the pair had made headway on resolving the civil war in Syria, the Iranian nuclear deal and the denuclearisation of North Korea.
However, things started to get really awkward when Mr Wallace started to ask the no-nonsense leader about alleged election interference in the US.
Mr Putin could been visibly chuckling when the experienced American reporter brought the subject up.
And, when Mr Wallace tried to hand him a document showing that a dozen Russian intelligence officers were indicted for conspiring to hack into Democrats' computers, stealing documents and interfering in the US presidential election, Mr Putin ignored him and awkwardly made him put it on the table beside them.
Mr Putin then went on to say it was "utterly ridiculous" that some people think the Russians could have swayed millions of American voters in the 2016 election.
"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?" Mr Putin said. "This is utterly ridiculous."
He also fended off accusations that his country had dirt on Mr Trump and his family.
"We don't have anything on them," Mr 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 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 organised the beauty pageants. But no, it would never occur to anyone that he would think of running for president."
He argued Russia had neither the manpower or will to track Mr Trump, as they had no idea he was running for President before publicly committed to it and they didn't know what his political viewpoints were.
"We don't have enough resources," he said. "We don't have enough manpower to organise the total state of control. That's not part of our plans. And it's clear that we did nothing of that kind of against Mr Trump."
In an extraordinary moment in the lengthy interview, Mr Putin also said his interviewer was "completely deceived" about the "real situation" in Syria and went into attack mode when he was asked why his political enemies have been targeted.
"Well, first of all, all of us have plenty of political rivals. I'm pretty sure President Trump has plenty of political rivals," he said.
"But they don't end up dead," Mr Wallace responded.
"Haven't presidents been killed in the United States?" Putin shot back. "Have you forgotten about - well, has [President John F.] Kennedy been killed in Russia or in the United States? Or [Dr. Martin Luther] 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."
WHAT DOES THE INDICTMENT SHOW?
The document which Mr Putin so brazenly ignored was released on the eve of today's mega-meeting and it claims that twelve Russian military intelligence officers hacked into the Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic Party.
These officers are said to have released tens of thousands of private communications in a sweeping conspiracy by the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 US election.
The case follows a separate indictment that accused Russians of using social media to sow discord among American voters.
The 29-page indictment lays out how, months before Americans went to the polls, Russians schemed to break into key Democratic email accounts, including those belonging to Mrs Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Stolen emails, many politically damaging for Mrs Clinton, appeared on WikiLeaks in the campaign's final stretch.
The charges say the Russian defendants, using a persona known as Guccifer 2.0, in August 2016 contacted a person in touch with the Mr Trump campaign to offer help.
And they say that on the same day Mr Trump, in a speech, urged Russia to find Mrs Clinton's missing emails, Russian hackers tried for the first time to break into email accounts used by her personal office.
This morning's combative interview came after horrified political leaders in the United States accused President Trump of siding with Russia over his own country.
The two presidents spoke and took questions for 46 minutes overnight after spending an afternoon together at a summit in Helsinki, Finland, where they both pledged to act on a number of serious issues confronting the world.
Despite Russia's invasion of Crimea, support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, meddling in foreign elections and bleak human rights record, Mr Trump said the soured relations between the two nations had been caused by the 2016 election
"It was a clean campaign, I beat Hillary Clinton easily and frankly … we won that race and it's a shame there could be a little cloud over it," he said.
Mr Trump said he and Mr Putin had spent a "great deal of time" talking about the issue and Mr Putin was "strong and powerful in his denials".
"All I can do is ask the question," he added.
"There was no collusion. I didn't know the president. There was no one to collude with.
"We ran a brilliant campaign and that's why I'm President."
- with wires