Russian President Vladimir Putin got into a heated exchange with NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly on Sunday after Kelly asked him to address the growing controversy involving President Donald Trump and his associates’ ties to Russia.
During the interview, which aired on “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” Kelly asked Putin about the reported conversations between Trump campaign officials and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and reports that Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner asked to set up a secret back channel between Trump and Moscow.
Kelly pointed out that there are two congressional investigations and an FBI probe into the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, and that the FBI investigation is spearheaded by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“You’ve said that your ambassador, Kislyak, was just doing his job, right? So, what exactly was discussed in those meetings?” Kelly asked.
“There were no meetings. I — you understand? There were no meetings,” Putin said. “When I saw this, my jaw dropped.”
Kelly replied: “No meetings between Ambassador Kislyak and anybody from the Trump campaign?”
“I have no idea,” Putin said, becoming increasingly agitated as he continued. “I’m being completely honest with you. I don’t know. The routine job of an ambassador — do you think that from all over the world or from the United States, the ambassador reports to me every day who he meets with or what they discuss there?”
He continued: “That’s complete nonsense. Do you even understand what you’re asking or not?”
Kislyak has emerged as a central figure in the ongoing Trump-Russia controversy. So far, it has been reported that he had undisclosed conversations with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Kushner.
Kislyak also met with Trump in the Oval Office in May, along with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. The Washington Post reported after the meeting that while it was not wrong for the president to host foreign diplomats in the Oval Office, the timing was odd given that it took place one day after Trump fired former FBI director James Comey, who was spearheading a Russia probe.
When Putin denied knowledge of Kislyak’s meetings, Kelly pointed out that he was Kislyak’s boss.
“Listen, his boss is the Minister of Foreign Affairs,” Putin said. “Do you think that I have time to talk to our ambassadors every day? All over the world? Complete nonsense.”
Kelly also touched upon recent reports that Kushner spoke to Kislyak during the transition period about setting up a secret communications back channel between Trump and Moscow using Russian facilities. Putin said he had no knowledge of such a proposal.
When Kelly asked whether Putin was interested in finding out whether the reported conversation had taken place, Putin said he wasn’t.
“Had there been anything significant, he would have reported it to the minister. The minister would have reported it to me,” Putin said. “There weren’t even any reports. There’s nothing to even talk about.”
Putin added that there was no discussion about sanctions or any other sensitive subjects.
“For me, this is just amazing. You created a sensation out of nothing,” Putin said. “And out of this sensation, you turned it into a weapon of war against the current president. Well, this is, you know, you’re just, you people are so creative over there. Good job. Your lives must be boring.”
The Trump administration has been engulfed in a growing controversy involving its ties with Russia. Though there are no reports that Kushner discussed sanctions with Kislyak during their alleged conversation, news that he requested a back channel between Trump and Moscow using Russian facilities has alarmed former intelligence officials and those in the national security apparatus.
The Trump administration’s attempt to characterize the Kushner-Russia controversy as an acceptable form of back-channel communications is “infuriating,” Glenn Carle, a CIA veteran and former spy, told Business Insider.
The establishment of a back channel is “a sanctioned, appropriate kind of behavior done by the government in order to avoid notice. There is a place for a back channel, but this wasn’t that” Carle said. “This wasn’t done by the government. It was done through the Russians.”
Back-channel communications can be “legitimate and useful,” said Bob Deitz, a veteran of the NSA and CIA who worked under former presidents Bush and Clinton. But “the principle problem is where [Kushner] proposed to have these communications,” Deitz told Business Insider. “One just does not have back-channel communications in the switch room of a rival.”
In addition to the reported back-channel request, Trump and his associates have been caught up in a number of other reports that raise questions about their ties to Russia. After Trump fired Comey, he said “this Russia thing” had been a factor in his decision. And according to a memo Comey wrote, Trump asked him in February to drop the FBI’s investigation into Flynn’s Russian ties.
The Washington Post also reported that Trump disclosed highly classified information to Lavrov and Kislyak during their Oval Office meeting.
Later, it emerged that Trump told Russian officials during their meeting that Comey was “a real nut job” and that firing him had taken “great pressure” off him.