US President Donald Trump was asked point blank in an interview if he is, was or is a Russian agent.
"I think it's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked," he replied.
The extraordinary exchange came not on any hostile television channel, but the Trump-friendly Fox News, where host Jeanine Pirro, a self-professed Trump fan, sprang the question on him during a telephonic interview following the explosive disclosure in the New York Times on Saturday that the FBI had opened a counter-intelligence investigation into whether the US President was a Russian asset.
"Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?" Pirro asked.
"I think it's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked," Trump replied, adding, "I think it's the most insulting article I've ever had written.
It was a great insult, and the New York Times is a disaster as a paper."
That NYT disclosure was followed up by a Washington Post revelation that Trump ''has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter."
But Trump rejected that story too without going into the specifics of the charge, which cited US officials saying there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of the US President’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years because of his insistence on keeping it secret.
"I'm not keeping anything under wraps - I couldn't care less, it's so ridiculous. Anybody could have listened to that meeting, it is open for grabs.
The whole Russia thing it's a hoax, it's a total hoax, everybody knows it."
Trump railed, arguing, "Think of it, I had a one-on-one meeting with Putin, like I do with every other leader.
I have many one-on-one, nobody ever says anything about it, but with Putin they say, 'Oh what did they talk about?' We talked about very positive things."
"I can tell you this, if you ask the folks in Russia, I've been tougher on Russia than anybody else," he added, although critics have pointed out that many of his actions, including the US withdrawal from Syria, have aided Moscow, and there is no record of anyone in Russia saying he has been tough on them.
Jokes and memes abound on Trump being Russia’s chump.
But on Twitter, Trump insisted "I have been FAR tougher on Russia than Obama, Bush or Clinton.
Maybe tougher than any other President. At the same time, & as I have often said, getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.
I fully expect that someday we will have good relations with Russia again!" The US President also continued his familiar diatribe against the media, accusing the Washington Post, which is now owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, of being lobbyists for Amazon.
"[Jeff] Bezos has bigger problems than anybody right now, but Bezos uses that as his lobbyist," Trump sneered in an oblique reference to stories about the Amazon CEO’s divorce from Mackenzie, his wife of 25-years, following a relationship with another woman.
The Bezos story was broken by the tabloid National Enquirer, whose owner David Pecker is a close friend of Trump, and who canned stories about Trump’s own alleged affairs in a process dubbed "catch and kill," which involved paying off women who claimed to have stories of affairs with former real estate mogul.
Trump has been sniping at Bezos -- who is about 100 times richer than the man obsessed about wealth -- and the Washington Post, for several months now, and he continued the attack on Twitter over the weekend.
"I just watched a Fake reporter from the Amazon Washington Post say the White House is 'chaotic, there does not seem to be a strategy for this Shutdown.
There is no plan.' The Fakes always like talking Chaos, there is NONE," Trump maintained, revealing, "In fact, there’s almost nobody in the W.H. but me, and... ....I do have a plan on the Shutdown."
He added, "But to understand that plan you would have to understand the fact that I won the election, and I promised safety and security for the American people.
Part of that promise was a Wall at the Southern Border.
Elections have consequences!" The remark left pundits wondering if he saw his election victory – which some critics see as being tainted by Russian meddling -- as license to do as it pleases him.
The opposition Democrats, who won the mid-term Congressional elections and have recaptured the House of Representatives, and who have also said "elections have consequences," are circling around the Republican President, promising intense scrutiny into his conduct.
Representative Eliot Engel, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that his panel would hold hearings on "the mysteries swirling around Trump’s bizarre relationship with Putin and his cronies, and how those dark dealings affect our national security."
Separately, Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN he'd like to get the notes of the meeting that the President had with Putin.
"There was a translator so I'm sure she took notes down simultaneously in order to translate. Unless she's destroyed them, they would be of interest," he said.
The idea that the President of the United States could be an asset or stooge of another country, something hard to get one’s around, has rattled many in the the foreign policy and national security community.
"Incredible dangerous national security situation," tweeted former four-star general Barry McCaffrey, referring to the Washington Post story.
"Implies a conspiring relationship between Trump and Putin.
Trump feels he has to conceal his actions with the Russians from his own senior officials. Nothing like this ever in our history."