WASHINGTON – Russian President Vladimir Putin denied his country's intelligence agencies had collected damaging information about President Donald Trump and that he had no interest in the former real estate mogul before he launched his presidential bid in 2015.
"We don't have anything on them, and there can't be anything on them," Putin said through a translator in an interview with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.
"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," Putin said.
"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," he said.
Speculation has centered on whether Russian intelligence agents gathered incriminating information about Trump when he visited Russia for a Miss Universe pageant in 2013. Some Democratic lawmakers raised that possibility again Monday after Trump appeared to accept Putin's denial that Moscow had any role in the 2016 election.
Trump has long denied that the Russians could have collected damaging information. Putin, earlier in the day, described those rumors as "nonsense."
Putin also used the interview Monday to caution the U.S. against holding the relationship between the two countries hostage over "internal political struggles," a reference to the probe into Moscow's role in the 2016 election.
Putin blamed what he described as the "political games" of the United States for the timing of U.S. Justice Department indictments filed last week against a dozen Russian intelligence officials for meddling in the election.
"Don't hold [the relationship] hostage because of this internal political struggle," Putin said. "It's nothing to be proud of for American democracy."
Putin spoke to Fox shortly after a high-profile summit in which Trump blamed U.S. "foolishness" and "stupidity" for troubled U.S.-Russian relations. Trump also questioned U.S. intelligence assessments that Moscow tried to influence the 2016 presidential election, saying Putin had denied such efforts in "strong and powerful" terms.
Putin, in response to a question from Wallace about where U.S.-Russian relations stand, said the two countries are working together closely on counterterrorism efforts and said that "some things have changed for the better" because of the meeting.
Putin said he would respond “negatively” if NATO sought to bring Ukraine or Georgia into its fold. The Russian leader also said that increases in NATO troops in “regions where they shouldn’t be” was a “destabilizing” factor in the region.
“For us, well, it's a direct and immediate threat for our national security,” Putin said.