Russian President Vladimir Putin is suggesting that Jews, Ukrainians or Tatars might have meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but again is rejecting Kremlin interference.
In a wide-ranging interview with NBC News that aired Sunday, Putin dismissed the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that he ordered a campaign to undermine U.S. democracy and help real estate mogul Donald Trump win a four-year White House term.
"Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?" Putin asked. The Russian leader said he also was not convinced of Russian meddling after U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller last month indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies on charges of interfering in the election. He vowed to "never" turn over the individuals for trial in the U.S.
"So what if they're Russians?" Putin said of the allegations. "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."
"Maybe," Putin suggested, "they are not even Russians, but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked. 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 said.
"Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away, influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn't that sound ridiculous, even to you?" Putin asked.
Jewish groups condemned Putin's suggestion that Jews were responsible for the election meddling.
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said, "President Putin bizarrely has resorted to the blame game by pointing the finger at Jews and other minorities in his country. It is deeply disturbing to see the Russian president giving new life to classic anti-Semitic stereotypes that have plagued his country for hundreds of years."
The American Jewish Committee said in a Twitter comment, "President Putin suggesting that Russian Federation minorities, be they Ukrainian, Tatar, or Jewish, were behind U.S. election meddling is eerily reminiscent of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." He should clarify his comments at the earliest opportunity."
The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" refers to a fictional anti-Semitic work published in a Russian newspaper in 1903, purporting to depict a Jewish conspiracy for global domination. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says that Adolf Hitler in World War II used the falsified papers as propaganda and was influenced by them.
Top U.S. congressional Democrats on Monday called on Trump to "devote all resources available" to ensure that the 13 Russians indicted by Mueller stand trial in the U.S. The lawmakers said it is "extraordinary and confounding how little your administration is doing to counter Putin's campaign to undermine our grand democracy, including the refusal to implement sanctions that passed Congress nearly unanimously."
Trump has reluctantly acknowledged the Russian interference in the U.S. election, but also recently said that the meddling might have been carried out by "other countries, and maybe other individuals." He has repeatedly said that investigation of allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia to help him win are an excuse by Democrats to explain his upset victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.