Monday was a weird day for Fox News. The network’s daytime team could not bring itself to praise President Trump’s performance at his press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Several analysts said he handed the Russian president a victory, and called his failure to stand up for the U.S. “disgraceful.” But by the evening, the Trump propaganda machine was rolling again. Sean Hannity aired a post-summit chat with Trump in which the president suggested Putin’s denials are proof that there was never any Trump-Russia collusion.
In between, Fox News aired Putin’s interview with Chris Wallace, in which the Fox News Sunday host deftly attempted to hold the leader to account on everything from U.S. election hacking to hinting at his ability to nuke Florida to killing his opponents within Russia. After watching Trump perform like Putin’s puppet at their press conference, it was particularly satisfying to see an American interviewer make Putin squirm — even if Putin mostly filibustered and offered absurd justifications for Russia’s actions. Here are the most interesting moments.
Wallace Tries to Make Putin Hold the Mueller Indictments
Just a few minutes into the interview, Wallace brought up allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election, then produced a copy of the indictment Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued on Friday, accusing 12 Russian intelligence operatives of hacking Democratic targets.
Putin started laughing as Wallace described the allegations. “You smile. Let me finish,” Wallace said. “You say that these units were … involved in hacking into Democratic party computers, stealing information, and spreading it to the world to try to disrupt an election. May I give this to you to look at, sir?” Putin paused, then motioned for Wallace to put the document on the table between them.
Putin Suggests Hacking Was Fine Because It Exposed Real Emails
Putin tried to dodge Wallace’s questions on the indictment with a lengthy multi-part answer. While he insisted Russia “has never interfered with the internal affairs of the United States, let alone its elections,” eventually he offered what sounded like a justification for the hacking.
“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,” Putin said.”
He added that the hackers 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,” referring to emails indicating that top party officials preferred Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.
Wallace interrupted Putin several times to try to get him to answer the question, leading to them arguing through interpreters at one point.
“You’re indicating that they stole real money, not counterfeit money,” Wallace said. “Are you saying it’s okay because facts that they took from the DNC, from John Podesta, it was their real emails so it’s okay to hack and spread this information out and interfere with the election?”
Putin just reiterated his point, imploring Wallace to be patient. “If you don’t like my answer, you can give it to me straightway, and I’ll just keep silent,” Putin said. “And if you want Americans to listen to my opinion, could you please wait for a little bit?”
Putin Says Trump the Businessman Wasn’t Important Enough to Spy On
Noting that at their press conference, Trump “spent more time criticizing the Democrats and asking about the Democratic server than he did criticizing Russia and asking about the GRU,” Wallace segued into theories on why Trump is so reluctant to annoy Putin. Does the Russian leader have “kompromat” on him, or is it that “as a skilled politician and former KGB officer, you know how to play him. You use phrases like ‘fake news’ and ‘deep state.’”
Putin brushed off Trump’s bizarrely deferential behavior, saying two leaders don’t travel to a bilateral summit just to insult each other. Then he claimed that Trump the real estate mogul and TV host wasn’t important enough to warrant videotaping his activities with prostitutes.
PUTIN: I don’t want to insult President Trump when I say this — and I may come 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 organized the beauty pageants. But no, it would never occur to anyone that he would think of running for president.
Funnily enough, this was one of the few points where Trump slightly contradicted Putin in his Hannity interview. Even when parroting a Russian talking point meant to disprove the existence of the pee tape, Trump had to point out he was a particularly successful businessman at the time of the alleged taping.
TRUMP: You know many years ago when I was there, what was it 13, 14, a long time ago, he said there were many, many businesspeople there. In all fairness, I was a very successful businessman, but I was one of a lot of people. And one thing you know, if they had it, it would have been out.
Wallace Confronts Putin on Threatening to Nuke Florida
Wallace asked Putin about one rare occasion when Trump reportedly did get upset at the Russian leader: when he released a propaganda video back in March that showed Russian nukes hitting Florida, near Trump’s beloved Mar-a-Lago.
Putin claimed there’s no indication that the target is the United States because there was no caption (the land just looked exactly like a map of the Florida coast).
PUTIN: As far as the footage is concerned, well, they did not specify that it — the missile is about to hit the United States. You have to look at it more carefully. Secondly —
WALLACE: It shows Florida —
PUTIN: It — that was not signed “Florida.” There was not a caption saying “Florida.” They could — take a more careful look at it. There was never a caption, “Florida.”
WALLACE: No, but you can see it on the map.
PUTIN: It was flying over the eastern coast of — no, no, no, it couldn’t be seen on the map. Just take a closer look, and don’t try to scare your population with make-believe threats. And now — I’m pretty sure I can give you as a present this footage.
Putin Compares Murdering His Critics to JFK and MLK Assassinations
Toward the end of the interview, Wallace asked “Why is it that so many of the people who oppose Vladimir Putin end up dead, or close to it?” He pointed to former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, political opponent Boris Nemtsov, and investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
“Well, first of all, all of us have plenty of political rivals. I’m pretty sure President Trump has plenty of political rivals,” Putin answered.
Wallace shot back: “But they don’t end up dead.”
“Haven’t presidents been killed in the United States?” Putin said. “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.”