UPDATED with full-interview video: KGB spymaster/Russian ruler Vladimir Putin tried out comedy, conspiracy and condescension in his much-ballyhooed sit-down with NBC News It Girl Megyn Kelly on Sunday night.
Debuting her Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly newsmag, the former Fox News Channel griller reminded Putin he has repeatedly denied Russia was behind the interference with the 2016 presidential election. But she called his attention to the fact that 17 intelligence agencies, and Republicans and Democrats on the congressional oversight committees who have seen the classified reports, all have concluded otherwise.
“Are they all lying?” she asked.
“They have been misled; they aren’t analyzing the information in its entirety. I haven’t seen, even once, any direct proof of Russian interference in the presidential election in the United States,” Putin shot back.
In addition to her one-on-one, some footage came from the Kelly-moderated forum with Putin in St. Petersburg, and Kelly said the “normally wonkish gathering quickly became heated when I asked President Putin about Russia’s attempts to hack the 2016 election.”
Cue up clip of Kelly asking Putin in front of 4,000 attendees, “What the experts say is that this could not have been faked, that it’s a hundred factors that point to Russia. They say it’s the forensics, it’s the digital fingerprints, it’s the IP addresses, the malware, the encryption keys, the specific pieces of code, all of them point to Russia, and none of them points to anyone other than Russia.”
“What fingerprints, or hoof-prints or horn-prints, what are you talking about?” Putin responded, demonstrating, as have so many before him, that comedy is hard.
“IP addresses, they can be invented, you know? There are a lot of specialists who can even make it so it comes from your home IP address, as if your 3-year-old daughter carried out the attack,” he added.
Also during the forum, Kelly noted American press reports the Trump administration took active steps to ease sanctions on Russia and asked if his reps meet with Team Trump on that prior to Trump’s inauguration.
Putin confessed all.
“I saw what was happening; to be honest it was a big surprise for me too,” Putin said, demonstrating that, in addition to comedy, acting is hard.
“What they’re saying it just nuts. I don’t know where the people spreading this information came from. It’s some sort of catastrophe.”
Getting back to her one-on-one, Kelly wondered why, after months of insisting Russia had nyet to do with the interference in the American election, suddenly this week he floated the idea of patriotic Russian hackers doing the job.
“I hadn’t said anything,” Putin insisted, demonstrating that, in addition to comedy and acting, lying on TV is hard.
“It’s just that French journalists asked me about those hackers. I told them the same thing I can tell you: Hackers can be anywhere. They can be in Russia, in Asia, even in America, Latin America. They can even be hackers, by the way, in the United States who very skillfully and professionally shifted the same, as we say, on to Russia.
“Could you accept that?” Putin continued patronizingly. “In the midst of a political battle, by some calculations, it was convenient for them to release this information. So they released it, calling out Russia. Can you imagine something like that?” he asked Kelly.
Putin is, while maybe weak on comedy and acting and lying, a real pro at condescension.
Here’s where Putin dove down the Russian rabbit hole. Or, as Kelly described it in a voice-over: “Then, the former KGB agent floated a Cold War conspiracy theory about U.S. dirty tricks.”
It went like this:
“There’s a theory that Kennedy’s assassination was arranged by the United Sates intelligence services,” Putin began.
“So, if this theory is correct and that can’t be ruled out, then what could be easier, in this day and age, than using all the technical means at the disposal of the intelligence services, and using those means to organize some attacks – and then pointing the finger at Russia.”
More where that came from:
“I will tell you something that you probably already know. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but the United States, everywhere, all over the world, actively interferes with electoral campaigns of other countries,” Putin continued.
“Put your finger anywhere on a map of the world and everywhere you will hear complaints that American officials are interfering in internal electoral processes.”
When Kelly responded, “that sounds like a justification,” Putin shot back, “It does not sound like a justification. It sounds like a statement of fact. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
Wait, what? Did he just spill the beans?
“But, I repeat: We don’t even have to do that,” Putin added quickly. “Presidents come and go and even the parties in power change, but the main political direction does not change,” insisted Putin, who apparently has not been keeping up with last several months in the U.S.
“That’s why, in the grand scheme of things, we don’t care who’s the head of the United States,” Putin insisted stoutly.
In other interview highlights, Putin said his “jaw dropped” when he learned about reported meetings between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and members of Team Trump during the transition. “There were no meetings,” Putin insisted.
“No meetings between Ambassador Kislyak and anybody from the Trump campaign?” Kelly asked, dubious.
“I have no idea,” Putin responded, adding, “I’m being completely honest with you” (though he’d just changed his story).
He began to talk dismissively about the silly idea that he would know who his ambassadors are meeting with on a daily basis. “That’s completely nonsense! Do you even understand what you’re asking, or not?” he asked dismissively.
Kelly let it pass, answering, “Well, you’re his boss.”
She and Putin traveled old ground about Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, of whom Putin said, suggestively, “You and I have a much closer relationship than I had with Mr. Flynn.”
Asked about Trump’s finances and if he has any damaging goods on POTUS, Putin answered, “This is just another load of nonsense. Where would we get this information from?”
Finally, a good laugh.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.