Donald Trump might be a fan of Vladimir Putin, but it seems he’s been paying closer attention to the “nice things” the Russian president has said about him than to Putin’s geopolitical agenda. During an interview with ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Trump was asked about his party’s choice to soften its stance toward Russia in its official platform.
Trump replied that he was unaware of the platform change, before reassuring George Stephanopoulos that Putin wouldn’t interfere in Ukraine. (To be clear, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian territory, in 2014. The United Nations Security Council has refused to recognize the annexation.)
TRUMP: It’s — look, you know, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He’s not gonna go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want —
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?
TRUMP: Okay, well, he’s there in a certain way. But I’m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He take — takes Crimea. He’s sort of, I mean —
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you might recognize that.
TRUMP: I’m gonna take a look at it. But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also. Now, that was under — just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration.
Trump’s relationship to Putin has been closely scrutinized in recent weeks, particularly after he appeared to directly ask Russian hackers to dig up the remainder of the emails Hillary Clinton sent over her private server while she was Secretary of State. But when Stephanopoulos asked Trump to define his ties to Putin, Trump claimed to have “no relationship” with him. Stephanopoulos pressed him:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you have no relationship with Putin, then why did you say in 2013, “I do have a relationship. In 2014, I spoke …”
TRUMP: Because he has said nice things about me over the years. I remember years ago, he said something — many years ago, he said something very nice about me. I said something good about him when Larry King was on. This was a long time ago. And I said he is a tough cookie, or something to that effect.
He said something nice about me. This has been going on. We did 60 Minutes together. By the way, not together-together, meaning he was probably shot in Moscow —
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he was in Moscow.
TRUMP: — and I was shot in New York.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You were in New York. But that’s the thing.
TRUMP: No, just so you understand, he said very nice things about me, but I have no relationship with him. I don’t — I’ve never met him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet you said for three years, ’13, ’14, and ’15, that you did have a relationship with him.
TRUMP: No, look, what — what do you call a relationship? I mean, he treats me —
STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m asking you.
TRUMP: — with great respect. I have no relationship with Putin. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I never met him. I don’t think I’ve ever met him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You would know if you did.
TRUMP: I think so.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was quick to attack Trump’s questionable ties to Russia, saying in an interview with Fox News Sunday, “For Trump to both encourage that and to praise Putin, despite what appears to be a deliberate effort to try to affect the election, I think raises national-security issues.”
She went on to suggest that the email hack of the DNC, which came just as the convention kicked off in Philadelphia, was directly related to her opponent. “We know that Russian intelligence services hacked into the DNC, and we know that they arranged for a lot of those emails to be released,” she said. “And we know that Donald Trump has shown a very troubling willingness to support Putin.”