Russian President Vladimir Putin said he "couldn't care less" if Russian citizens tried to meddle in the 2016 US election because, he claimed, the perpetrators weren't linked to the Kremlin.
During a no-holds-barred interview with NBC News' Megyn Kelly, Putin repeatedly denied ordering a multifaceted influence campaign to sabotage the presidential election.
"Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?" Putin asked.
Last month, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States.
"So what if they're Russians?" Putin said of the people listed in Mueller's indictment. "There are 146 million Russians. So what?
"I don't care," he added. "I couldn't care less. ...They do not represent the interests of the Russian state."
In addition to expressing indifference, the foreign leader suggested that the election meddlers may not even be Russian.
"Maybe they are not even Russians, but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews, but with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked," he said.
Throughout the interview, which was conducted on March 1 and 2 in Russia, Putin rejected the notion that the Kremlin was involved in the election process.
When asked why Russia wouldn't interfere in US elections, Putin insisted the country neither has the desire nor the means to do it. Putin's denial, however, runs counter to assessments by US intelligence agencies.
The US intelligence community said in a January 2017 report that the Russian government interfered in the presidential election -- to help Trump win -- by hacking Democratic targets, facilitating damaging releases through WikiLeaks and using social media to spread misinformation. The report said Putin "ordered" the meddling effort.
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