Donald Trump’s gushing praise of Vladimir Putin under fresh scrutiny after Michael Cohen allegations

'Russia is like, I mean, they’re really hot stuff'

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 18 January 2019 21:43
Trump: I would 'hold Putin responsible' for election meddling

Donald Trump's ties to Russia are again under the spotlight after reports emerged alleging he directed his estranged ex-lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his company’s plans to build a new Trump Tower in Moscow.

According to law enforcement sources who spoke to Buzzfeed News, the president instructed his one-time confidant to say negotiations over the proposed construction project had been curtailed much earlier in 2016 than they actually were.

Since May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller and his team have doggedly investigated ties between the Trump camp and the Kremlin to determine whether America’s former Cold War foe attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election to win the White House for its preferred candidate.

Mr Mueller has secured the co-operation of ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and now Cohen in exchange for more lenient sentences after they were charged with an array of misdemeanours, financial and diplomatic, exposed by his investigators.

A backdrop to all this has been Mr Trump’s personal admiration for Russia’s authoritarian president Vladimir Putin. Below is a collection of the billionaire's statements about his Kremlin counterpart, from the campaign trail to the Oval Office.

2013

While he was still best-known as the host of the NBC reality show The Apprentice, Donald Trump visited Moscow in November 2013 to host the Miss Universe Pageant, a trip on which the events recorded on the mythical “pee tape” are said to have occurred.

In advance of his jetting out, Mr Trump said he had invited President Putin to attend the gala and speculated on whether the strongman would “become my new best friend”.

He praised Mr Putin for his criticising the long-standing notion of “American exceptionalism” on CNN on 13 September 2013: “You think of the term as being fine, but all of sudden you say, what if you’re in Germany or Japan or any one of 100 different countries? You’re not going to like that term. It’s very insulting and Putin really put it to him [President Barack Obama] about that.”

In October, he told Larry King Mr Putin had done “a really great job outsmarting our country” and told David Letterman that he himself had done “a lot of business with the Russians” and that Mr Putin was “a tough guy”.

Interviewed by MSNBC ahead of the pageant, he said: “I do have a relationship [with Vladimir Putin] and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today... He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form, but I do have a relationship with him and I think it’s very interesting to see what’s happened.”

2014

Subsequently reflecting on the ceremony in an interview with Fox and Friends on 10 February 2014, Mr Trump commented: “When I went to Russia with the Miss Universe pageant, [President Putin] contacted me and was so nice. I mean, the Russian people were so fantastic to us.”

“I’ll just say this, they are doing – they’re outsmarting us at many turns, as we all understand. I mean, their leaders are, whether you call them smarter or more cunning or whatever, but they’re outsmarting us. If you look at Syria or other places, they’re outsmarting us.

A month later, he returned to the same show to discussion Russian aggression in Ukraine.

“Well Mitt Romney was so right [in calling Russia “a geopolitical foe”], and nobody knew how right he was going to be, and you look at Obama’s response and just take a look at what’s going on... Syria was propped up by Russia. Syria’s now back in their fold 100 per cent and that whole deal is coming to an end because Russia’s taken over.

“Russia is not strong economically and we could do a lot of different things to really do numbers on them if we wanted to.”

No longer boasting of Mr Putin as an influential friend, preferring to use his flouting of international law as a stick with which to beat President Obama, Mr Trump told NBC’s Today Russia should face sanctions: ”We have to show some strength. I mean, Putin has eaten Obama’s lunch, therefore our lunch, for a long period of time.

“And I just hope that Obama, who’s not looking too good, doesn’t do something very foolish and very stupid to show his manhood. I just hope that doesn’t happen.”

More dramatically, he tweeted on 21 March: “I believe Putin will continue to re-build the Russian Empire. He has zero respect for Obama or the U.S.!”

He returned to Fox on 24 March to repeat his praise of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s foresight about the threat Russia represented before completely reversing his position on 12 April, saying how “nice” Mr Putin had been at the pageant and praising the annexation of Crimea: “He’s done an amazing job of taking the mantle.”

That same day, Mr Trump said at an event in New Hampshire that: “Russia is like, I mean they’re really hot stuff... and now you have people in the Ukraine – who knows, set up or not – but it can’t all be set up, I mean they’re marching in favor of joining Russia.”

On 28 April, the real estate mogul tweeted: “Putin has shown the world what happens when America has weak leaders. Peace Through Strength!”

Interviewed by The American Spectator, he repeated his endorsement of President Putin’s attack on “American exceptionalism”: “You know, he said, ‘Why are they exceptional? They have killings in the streets. Look at what’s going on in Chicago and different places. They have all of this turmoil, all of the things that are happening in there.’”

Returning to his characterisation of Mr Putin as the bogeyman of world politics, Mr Trump tweeted on 25 November: “Can you imagine what Putin and all of our friends and enemies throughout the world are saying about the U.S. as they watch the Ferguson riot.”

2015

Donald Trump gives an interview to The Daily Mail in the UK in March in which he addressed his “great” relationship with the Russian premier, revealing the latter gave him “a gift – an award and a beautiful letter” in Moscow.

In a brace of interviews on Fox News with heavyweight anchors Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity in June, Mr Trump continued glorying in his memories of the Miss Universe Pageant and claims Mr Putin hates President Obama, refusing to elaborate when pushed.

On 8 July 2015, he toldAnderson Cooper of CNN the Russians would release whistleblower Edward Snowden to US custody if he were to become president, adding: “He hates Obama. He doesn’t respect Obama. Obama doesn’t like him either. But he has no respect for Obama. Has a hatred for Obama. And Snowden is living the life.”

In August, he told Fox of his hopes of meeting with President Putin when he next visited New York to attend the UN General Assembly: “Frankly, I’d get along great with him. You gotta get along with these people.”

“I actually think that he is somebody that can be dealt with,” he told Maria Bartiromo, of the same channel. “I think his dislike of President Obama is so intense, that it really has affected the whole relationship.

“We’ve driven them into the arms of China, so that now these two are together, which is also a been the great sin. Don’t ever let Russia and China get together. We’ve driven them together. I think he is somebody that I would have a very decent relationship with if I ever win.”

Interviewed by O’Reilly again on 29 September, he speculated on what grade he would give Vladimir Putin if political leadership were assessed like school homework: ”I will tell you that I think in terms of leadership, he is getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well. They did not look good together.”

On 11 October, he congratulated CBS on Face the Nation for an earlier 60 Minutes feature comparing the two men: ”I think the biggest thing we have is that we were on 60 Minutes together and we had fantastic ratings. One of your best-rated shows in a long time. So that was good, right? So we were stablemates.”

Two days later, Mr Trump told The Guardian he believed Russia would move in to Syria to fight Isis: He’s going to want to bomb Isis because he doesn’t want Isis going into Russia and so he’s going to want to bomb Isis. Vladimir Putin is going to want to really go after Isis and if he doesn’t it’ll be a big shock to everybody.”

Asked at a Republican debate on 10 November what he would do as president in response to Russian aggression, Mr Trump dissembled: “Well, first of all, it’s not only Russia. We have problems with North Korea where they actually have nuclear weapons. You know, nobody talks about it, we talk about Iran, and that’s one of the worst deals ever made.”

Speaking to Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, on 18 December, Mr Trump attempted to refute allegations that President Putin “kills journalists that don’t agree with him”.

“I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing going on, a lot of stupidity.”

2016

Donald Trump again appeared on Ms Bartiromo’s Fox Business show and this time answered questions about state involvement in the 2006 murder of ex-secret service agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.

“Have they found [Vladimir Putin] guilty? I don’t think they’ve found him guilty. If he did it, fine. But I don’t know that he did it. You know, people are saying they think it was him, it might have been him, it could have been him. But Maria, in all fairness to Putin—I don’t know. You know, and I’m not saying this because he says, ‘Trump is brilliant and leading everybody’ —the fact is that, you know, he hasn’t been convicted of anything.”

By 17 February, Mr Trump had begun to deny any association with Mr Putin, but not without repeating some possibly exaggerated praise: ”I have no relationship with him other than he called me a genius. He said, ‘Donald Trump is a genius and he is going to be the leader of the party and he’s going to be the leader of the world or something’.”

That spring, the Republican presidential candidate began to claim he would make a better negotiator with the Kremlin than his rivals as a key selling point and, outrageously, attacked the media for ”falsely” claiming he admires Russia's premier.

US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit

“Putin said good things about me. He said, ‘He’s a leader and there’s no question about it, he’s a genius.’ So they all said, the media, they said – you saw it on the debate – they said, ‘you admire President Putin.’”, he told a rally in Vandalia, Ohio, on 15 March 2016.

“I said, I don’t admire him. I said he was a strong leader, which he is. I mean, he might be bad, he might be good. But he’s a strong leader.”

On 28 April, he told O’Reilly: “If we can make a great deal for our country and get along with Russia that would be a tremendous thing. I would love to try it.” He repeated this line throughout the campaign, regularly expressing his respect for the premier as a “strong leader” while distancing himself incrementally from Moscow.

Speaking to a CBS-affiliated local broadcaster in Miami, Florida, on 27 July, Mr Trump completes his about-turn: “I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do, I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”

Repeating the line at a press conference later that day, he went even further: “I don’t know who Putin is.”

Later, the candidate told George Stephanopoulos on ABC: “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”

As the presidential campaign reached its climax, Mr Trump was more ambiguous, telling a rally on 5 October: “I don’t love, I don’t hate. We’ll see how it works. We’ll see. Maybe we’ll have a good relationship. Maybe we’ll have a horrible relationship. Maybe we’ll have a relationship right in the middle.”

Accused by Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at the third presidential debate on 19 October of being Russia’s puppet, he responded: “No puppet. You’re the puppet.”

2017

Since securing his shock election victory, President Trump has been much more cautious about even mentioning the Russian leader although he has continued to be asked about him.

Bill O’Reilly wondered whether he considered President Putin “a killer” on 16 February 2017, provoking the surprising answer: “There are a lot of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent? Do you think our country is so innocent?”

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet at G20 summit

The presidents spoke on the phone in April regarding the St Petersburg subway attack and in May on strategy in Syria before meeting at the G20 in Hamburg, Germany, on 7 July. Twelve days later, he assured CBS he “would hold Putin responsible” if election meddling could be proved.

Asked about Russia’s human rights record on 60 Minutes on 15 October and whether the Putin adminstration had ordered the Sergei Skripal poisoning in the UK, Mr Trump said, “probably... but it’s not our country”.

Donald Trump admits Vladimir Putin 'probably' involved in poisonings 'but it's not in our country'

They met again in person at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, on 11 November and Mr Trump addressed the election meddling accusations by saying: “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”

2018

President Trump was explicitly briefed by aides not to congratulate his Russian counterpart on his re-election victory over suspicions about the fairness of the contest, but ignored them and called up the Kremlin to do exactly that on 20 March.

He was criticised for his performance when the pair met for a bilateral summit in Helsinki, Finland, in July 2018, having pledged to ask the American people about the interference allegations while warning there would be no “gotcha” moment.

Putin says he had to tell Trump several times that he did not interfere in US election

“All I can do is ask the question – my people came to me, Dan Coats [director of national intelligence] came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia,” he said.

“I have President Putin here, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be but I really want to see the server but, I have confidence in both parties.”

The naval crisis in the Kirch Strait in November found Mr Trump caught in a difficult position and his response was non-commital: “We do not like what’s happening either way. We don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully it will get straightened out.” He subsequently cancelled a proposed meeting between the pair at the G20 in Argentina.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events