Within hours, the comment was shared widely on social media. Many commentators considered it a clear echo of the anti-Semitism that has plagued Russia’s history since at least the 19th century.
Nachman Shai, an Israeli legislator, called the Russian leader’s remarks a classic example of anti-Semitism. “His comments show that nothing has changed in viewing the Jews as responsible for all the world’s evil,” he wrote on Twitter. “This demands a strong reaction from the government of Israel.”
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, chief executive of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, said that Mr. Putin’s comment was redolent of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a forged document frequently cited by anti-Semites since its emergence in 19th-century Russia. “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,” he said in a statement.
Among Democrats in Congress, patience with the White House’s silence in the face of such Kremlin provocations is running thin. Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi were joined by the top Democrats on the chambers’ respective judiciary committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Jerrold Nadler of New York.
“While Putin’s stance is not surprising, it is also simply unacceptable,” they wrote in their letter.
Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said Mr. Putin’s comment “speaks to anti-Semitic tropes that have spurred intolerance and ethnic violence for centuries, and it is disturbing that this type of anti-Semitism has seen a recent resurgence among populist, far-right leaders around the world. That President Trump has failed to condemn Putin’s statement, just as he equivocated on Charlottesville, undermines America’s moral responsibility to combat the kind of racism and anti-Semitism perniciously re-emerging today.”
The Democratic letter outlines several steps that the Justice and State departments could take to try to force their extradition, such as pressing Interpol to issue what is effectively an international arrest warrant and using existing diplomatic channels, including raising the issue directly with Mr. Putin.
An Interpol notice “can severely restrict a fugitive’s ability to live and travel overseas,” they wrote.
The indictment of the Russian nationals does not directly say that the Russian government sponsored the election interference campaign, but top American intelligence officials have publicly said that Mr. Putin directed and oversaw it.
Mr. Putin, in his extended, evasive answer, seemed to delight in speculating about various possibilities including that the hacking never happened, and that if it did, Russia had nothing to do with it, or that maybe it was the work of an American citizen living in Russia, or of Russian free agents working on their own or for an American company. Only then did he come out with the line about Ukrainians, Tatars and Jews.
However, Mr. Putin’s comment may well have been lost in translation.
Speaking in Russian to the NBC presenter Megyn Kelly, Mr. Putin spoke of “Russkie,” a term denoting ethnic Russians in opposition to other nationalities living in the country. Many Russian Jews have long self-identified as separate from ethnic Russians — a source of confusion among Americans who may miss the nuance.
“When I first came to America in 1991 and was asked at J.F.K. airport, ‘Are you Russian?’ I responded ‘No, sir, I’m Jewish,’” said Boruch Gorin, a senior aide to Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, who has been supportive of the Russian leader. “Putin’s comments were lost in translation.”
However, Mr. Gorin noted that the Russian president rarely makes an effort to be politically correct, and in his speeches often intentionally separates ethnic Russians from the country’s minorities. Mr. Putin is clued up on political sensitivities in the West, and often seems to delight in skirting right along the edge of what is acceptable to Western audiences.
For instance, knowing that gay rights is an important issue in the West but is viewed with broad distaste at home, Mr. Putin in 2004 made a dig that appeared to combine that distaste with an equal widespread aversion to popular uprisings.
“When it comes to the post-Soviet space, what concerns me are attempts to resolve political questions through extralegal means,” he said at a news conference as a series of mass uprisings was sweeping the post-Soviet space. “The creation of a system of permanent revolutions, whether they be pink, or light blue.”
Mr. Putin flatly denied Kremlin involvement in the 2016 election interference in his interview with NBC.
“Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” he asked.
He also said that he “couldn’t care less” if Russians had attempted to meddle in the election and said he would never extradite those charged to the United States to stand trial.
The issue is a fraught one for Mr. Trump. He has repeatedly called Mr. Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt” and views American conclusions about Russian meddling as a threat to his legitimacy as president. Democrats and some Republicans have blasted him for not responding to the Russian effort more aggressively.
Mr. Trump said last year that Mr. Putin had assured him the Russians did not interfere in the campaign. “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Mr. Trump said at the time.
The Democrats’ letter also sounds an alarm about this year’s midterm elections, warning that despite Mr. Putin’s claims, Russian efforts are ongoing and must be taken seriously before November.
“It is extraordinary and confounding how little your administration is doing to counter Putin’s campaign to undermine our grand democracy,” the Democrats wrote.