Donald Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin is again stirring up controversy after he gave an interview Thursday to state-funded Russian Television.
Trump talked to former CNN host Larry King, who now hosts a show on RT America, for about 10 minutes. The Republican candidate again cast doubt on whether Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, a belief at odds with U.S. intelligence officials.
That’s also despite having encouraged Russia to “find” Clinton’s emails just six weeks ago.
“Russia, if you’re listening,” Trump said July 27, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
A day later, after blowback, Trump claimed he was just being “sarcastic.”
Trump’s appearance on the controversial television station could exacerbate an already icy relationship with the U.S. political press. Just this week, his campaign lifted a long-standing ban on certain news organizations — including the Washington Post, Politico, Buzzfeed and others — from covering his campaign — while giving wide access and many interviews to the conservative or alt-right press.
Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on CNN and CBS Friday morning the interview was simply done as a favor to King and that they thought it would appear on his podcast, not Russian television.
“What Larry King does with the interview content is up to him; we have nothing to do with it,” the Trump campaign told NPR’s Sarah McCammon.
The interview came a day after Trump repeatedly praised Putin during NBC’s Commander-In-Chief Forum.
“If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him,” Trump said at the Wednesday event, even calling the Russian president “a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”
Vice presidential nominee Indiana Gov. Mike Pence backed up those sentiments from his running mate, telling CNN that it was “inarguable” that Putin was a stronger leader than President Obama.
Conway told CBS that Trump wasn’t “praising him so much as saying we’ll work with people, anybody who wants to help– help stop the advance of ISIS will be welcome in the Trump/Pence administration to do so.”
A history of coziness
This week was far from the first time that Trump has cozied up to the Russian president. In a November debate, the GOP candidate boasted that he “got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates, and we did very well that night.”
But during a July press conference Trump denied ever meeting the Russian leader. (Their interviews were not taped together — or even on the same continent.)
“He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius. I said, ‘Thank you very much’ to the newspaper, and that was the end of it. I never met Putin,” Trump said, responding to the Democratic National Committee hack and charges the Russians were trying to meddle in U.S. elections.
The Trump-Putin bromance of sorts has even become a meme. (Some NSFW.) A kissing Trump and Putin adorned a street mural in Lithuania earlier in this campaign.
Trump’s business ties to Russia have also been probed, though as long as he hasn’t released his tax returns, the full extent isn’t known.
The Washington Post reported that “there is strong evidence that Trump’s businesses have received significant funding from Russian investors” and his son, Donald Jr., has boasted that Russian money “make[s] up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chief, also came under scrutiny for his past work in Ukraine for pro-Russian politicians.
Facing pushback from others in GOP
Trump’s continued unvarnished praise instead of unequivocal condemnation for Putin is yet another example of where the party’s standard-bearer has broken with GOP orthodoxy.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he disagreed with Trump’s characterization of Putin, calling the Russian leader “an aggressor that does not share our interests” who “is violating the sovereignty of neighboring countries.” (But Ryan also declined to directly criticize his party’s nominee for his comments.)
During the 2012 race, GOP nominee Mitt Romney — a virulent Trump critic — warned about Russia’s growing influence and called the country the U.S.’s biggest geopolitical threat, something then mocked by Obama and Democrats as hearkening back to the Cold War and the 1950s.
In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain blasted Russia’s military actions in the country of Georgia and argued he would take a more aggressive approach against the country as president. The Arizona senator was personally close with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The two reportedly talked several times a day.
Putin’s strongly disliked by Americans
Putin doesn’t have a good image in the United States, either. Trump boasted during the NBC forum that the Russian leader has a purported 82 percent approval rating back home.
How Putin has gotten that approval rating might be troubling for many Americans.
In fact, most Americans have a very negative opinion of Putin. A May NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found 59 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Putin, while just 8 percent held a favorable view.
As secretary of state, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tried to improve relations with the country, touting a “reset” — complete with a reset button for a photo-op — in 2009 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
But in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, suspicion of Russian involvement in the downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine and subsequent sanctions, U.S.-Russia relations subsequently deteriorated.
In 2014, Clinton said on NPR’s On Point that the reset “worked” and “succeeded,” because it was “a device to try to refocus attention on the transactional efforts that we needed to get done with the Russians.” [Copyright 2016 NPR]