President Trump refuses to press Vladimir Putin on the questions pretty much every official in American government thinks he should. Luckily, there’s Fox News's Chris Wallace.
The host on Trump’s favorite cable channel jousted ably with the Russian president — despite the use of interpreters — in an interview airing Monday night. He pressed Putin on the questions Trump has played off, including during Monday’s news conference with Putin in Helsinki. The interview turned heated at points, with Wallace clearly frustrated by Putin’s trademark filibustering and Putin clearly frustrated by a journalist actually challenging him.
Perhaps the most notable exchange came toward the end, when Wallace probed Putin on why many of his critics wind up dead or near death. The most recent high-profile example of this is Sergei Skripal in Britain, an attack for which the Trump administration officially holds Russia responsible but Trump himself seems to view as an obstacle to making friends.
Putin, rather remarkably, compared these alleged assassinations to the assassinations of Americans such as President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. He blamed “side effects” of his country’s “maturing” process:
PUTIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, first of all, all of us have plenty of political rivals. I’m pretty sure President Trump has plenty of political rivals.
WALLACE: But they don’t end up dead.
PUTIN: Well, not always — well, haven’t presidents been killed in the United States? Have you forgotten about — well, has Kennedy been killed in Russia or in the United States? Or Mr. 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.
But going back to what happened in Russia, yes. We do have crime and we unfortunately — there are some crimes. And to some extent, Russia’s statehood is maturing. And there are some side effects. And we prosecute people responsible for these crimes. But since you’ve mentioned the Skripal case, we would like to get at least some sort of a document, evidence about it. But nobody gives it to us. It’s the same thing as the accusations with meddling into the election process in America. We recently heard that two more people suffered from the same nerve agent that is called Novichok. I have never even heard the last names of these persons. Who are they? What —
WALLACE: Supposedly they picked up the bottle that was used to attack Skripal.
At another tense point early in the interview, Wallace produced a copy of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers from Friday. He detailed it briefly, and Putin began smirking — which Wallace noted. Then Wallace offered it to Putin, and Putin froze for a moment. Rather than accept the documents, he told Wallace to set them on the small table between them.
The exchanges that followed became increasingly heated. Wallace tried to keep Putin on topic, and Putin kept suggesting he wasn’t being heard. A sampling of Putin’s responses:
- “I will get to it. Just have a little bit of patience. Then you will get a full answer to your question.”
- “This is utterly ridiculous.”
- “If you will have some patience, you will hear the entire response.”
- “If you don’t like my answer, you can give it to me straightway, and I’ll just keep silent. And if you want Americans to listen to my opinion, could you please wait for a little bit?”
- “Well, let me finish. Just let me finish. Well, you’re trying to drive, but I will finish.”
Wallace also pressed Putin on the idea that he had compromising information on Trump — which Putin, unlike in the news conference earlier Monday, flatly denied — and a video the Russian government released rather clearly appearing to show a nuclear missile striking Florida. Some have posited that it showed the missile striking near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Putin tried to pretend it wasn’t a provocation — and rather ridiculously that it wasn’t even Florida:
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.
Here is an image of the video, courtesy of CNN, which rather clearly shows a piece of Florida, complete with Tampa Bay carved out of the western part of the coast and Lake Okeechobee in the lower right:
It was the grilling you’d expect Trump to have given. It was all the questions Russian journalists can’t ask. And it was a marked contrast to earlier in the day, when the American president suggested such things were pittances — mere obstacles to making Russia our friend.