Earlier this week, Morgan Freeman appeared in a high-profile video that accused Russia and Vladimir Putin of declaring war on the United States during the most recent American presidential election. "We have been attacked," Freeman says in the video. "We are at war." He goes on to accuse Putin of being a Soviet spy who wanted to take revenge on the United States for the collapse of the Soviet Union by turning Americans against their media and interfering with their political processes. Following the video's release, the Kremlin described Freeman as "emotional and self-exalted" and saying that it would be not be taking Freeman's accusations seriously.
The video was published by the Committee to Investigate Russia, a new American group created by Rob Reiner, director of When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride. James Clapper, the former U.S. Director of National Intelligence, is on the group's advisory board. CIR aims to expose Russia's "aggressive effort to subvert the American democratic process," according to its website. The group describes itself as "a nonprofit, non-partisan resource provided to help Americans recognize and understand the gravity of Russia’s continuing attacks on our democracy."
Reiner told CNN's Alisyn Camerota and John Berman that he launched the CIR in order to salvage American democracy:
It occurred to me that, you know, we've heard this cliche our whole lives — when our country is attacked, politics stops at the water's edge. This is the first time that that didn't happen. So I started reaching out to people who are patriots, and not necessarily my political stripe, to say we're all together in this. Our country is attacked. Democracy is on the brink. If we're going to survive, we need to come together as Americans and understand what happened.
Freeman's video was uploaded by the CIR on Monday. In it, Freeman compares Putin's actions as an alleged KGB spy to a movie script, and insinuates that Putin has engaged in cyber warfare to avenge "the collapse of his motherland." Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said that that the Kremlin was not too concerned about the video because its contents were "groundless and of an exclusively emotional character."
"Many creative people easily fall victim to emotional strain, and don't have real information about the actual state of affairs," Peskov said, suggesting that Freeman had been tricked into participating in this video in favor of others' political interests. "It will pass with time."
Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, went one step further and openly insisted that Freeman had been duped. In a Facebook post published on Wednesday, Zakharova compared Freeman's video to former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's infamous use of a test tube to gain the U.N. Security Council's support for military intervention in Iraq. In 2003, he used a test tube filled with an unknown white powder to illustrate the chemical weapons that Iraq allegedly had at its disposal. Zakharova suggested that Powell had been tricked into serving other parties' political interests, and that the same thing is now happening to Freeman.
But while Russian officials were relatively unconcerned about Freeman's appearance in the video, pro-Kremlin TV channels openly attacked him. According to the BBC, Russia's Rossiya 24 news channel argued that Freeman had a Messianic complex resulting from his portrayal of God in a film, while Channel 5 in St. Petersburg let Freeman know that he had "lost millions of Russian fans in a moment" by serving as an "American propaganda loudspeaker" repeating "Russophobic cliches."
The issue of Russian interference in the American election has plagued Donald Trump's presidency, such that former FBI director James Comey revealed that the president had asked him why the issue wouldn't go away.