Russian President Vladimir Putin granted NBC’s Megyn Kelly a rare one-on-one interview last week, and the revelations contained in it were startling (watch below). Even more disturbing than the substance of the sit-down, however, was the defiance in the Russian dictator’s tone when the topic turned to the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
What was also remarkable to see and hear was how intimately close the Putin’s talking points are to President Trump’s. Both are absolutely insistent that Russia did not meddle in the election, despite the conclusions of our entire intelligence community and the mountain of evidence contained in the indictments of 13 Russian hackers and operatives special counsel Robert Mueller filed in February.
Putin reiterated that talking point to Megyn Kelly, telling her, “Maybe they are not even Russians, but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews, but with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked.”
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“Maybe they have dual citizenship or a green card, maybe the U.S. paid them for this. How can you know that? I do not know, either,” he added desperately.
When Kelly pressed him, he tried to put his foot down by insisting, “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.”
There are two major red flags that these statements should raise. First, Putin sounds oddly like President Trump on this point. When the public first became aware of Russian hacking attempts during the campaign, Trump famously tried to distract and deflect any connection to the Kremlin.
At the first presidential debate on September 26th, Trump said “[Hillary Clinton] is saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”
By the time he took office in January of 2017, U.S. intelligence had already concluded that Russia had meddled, even if the massive scale of the operation wouldn’t be clear for a few more months. Despite those conclusions, Trump was still using a version of his “400 pound guy” talking point as recently as the spring of 2017.
He told CBS’s John Dickerson on April 29th of that year, “Knowing something about hacking, if you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I’ll go along with Russia. Could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.”
Putin’s most concerning comment, though, was the obvious anti-Semitic dogwhistle he used when trying to shift the blame away from Russia. That subtle but direct jab rang alarm bells all the way in Israel, where a lawmaker spoke out against Putin in no uncertain terms.
“Maybe the Jews meddled in the U.S. elections. Maybe the Jews rule the world, maybe the Jews slaughtered Jews in Poland – all of these claims have one root cause – a hatred of Jews,” Ksenia Svetlova, a member of the Zionist Union party, told Haaretz.
Svetlova’s also demanding that the Israeli government condemn the Russian president, saying that “if Israel does not defend the Jewish people, no one will.”
You can watch the entire explosive NBC News interview below.