On Tuesday, I noted that one of the key exchanges in the Trump–Putin press conference in Finland doesn’t appear in full in the White House transcript, or at all in the Kremlin’s English-language transcript of the event. The Reuters reporter Jeff Mason asked, “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?” But how exactly did Vladimir Putin respond to those pointed questions?
If you listen to the English translation that was broadcast during the press conference, the Russian leader said, “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.–Russia relationship back to normal.” This rendering of Putin’s remarks leaves open the possibility that he’s stating “Yes, I did” in reference not just to wanting Donald Trump to win the 2016 presidential race, but also to ordering Russian officials to help Trump win, even though Putin repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election and collusion with the Trump campaign throughout the rest of the news conference.
But I’ve heard from a number of Russian speakers who point out that Putin’s actual comments in Russian concerning who he wanted to win the election are much less ambiguous than the way they were translated. He seems to have not used the phrase Yes, I did once, let alone twice. Instead, in Russian, Putin roughly said, “Yes, I wanted him to win, because he talked about the normalization of Russian–American relations.” In other words, he was apparently answering the first part of Mason’s question but not the second about whether he directed help Trump’s way. It’s unclear if that’s because Putin didn’t hear the second half of the question, it wasn’t translated into Russian accurately, or he simply chose to ignore it.