During a news conference with Baltic heads of state on Tuesday, President Trump held out hope that he still might become friends with Vladimir Putin — while completely ignoring his regime’s efforts to undermine American democracy and in a chemical attack in Britain.
Trump was asked by a European reporter whether he views the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin as “an enemy, or someone you can have dialogue with.” He began his response by saying, “I think we’ll be able to have a great dialogue, I hope.”
“I think I could have a very good relationship with President Putin,” Trump said. “It’s a real possibility that I could have a good relationship, and remember this — getting along with Russia is a good thing, getting along with China is a good thing, getting along with other countries is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
“So I think I could have a very good relationship with Russia and with President Putin, and if I did that would be a great thing, and there’s also a great possibility that that won’t happen — who knows.”
During another part of his response, Trump claimed that “nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have, and I know you’re nodding yes because everybody agrees when they think about it.”
The examples Trump cited of how tough he’s been included his push to make America energy independent, which has nothing directly to do with Putin. He also referenced his scolding of other members of NATO for failing to spend enough on defense — comments that actually were widely viewed at the time as destabilizing the alliance, which serves as a bulwark against Russian aggression.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Trump didn’t mention two major developments that have taken place since the campaign and have further ostracized Putin from the international community — the recent poisoning of a former spy in a park in England that the British government has pinned on Putin, and Russia’s efforts to meddle in the U.S. presidential election on Trump’s behalf.
When Trump has spoken publicly about those incidents, he’s cast doubt upon Russian involvement. During a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minster Stefan Löfven last month, Trump suggested the hacks of prominent Democrats during the campaign might’ve been the work of “other countries, maybe other individuals.”
A week later, Trump downplayed Putin’s involvement in the poisoning of the former spy in Britain, saying he’s willing to “condemn Russia or whoever it may be” — but only if “we agree” with the facts.
Trump’s comments on Tuesday echoed what he repeatedly said during his presidential campaign, when he brushed aside criticism of Putin’s involvement in the murders of dissident journalists and spies by noting that “our country does plenty of killing also” and that “there’s nothing wrong with not fighting everybody, having Russia where we have a good relationship as opposed to all the stupidity that’s taken place.”
“I’m saying that I’d possibly have a good relationship. [Putin’s] been very nice to me,” Trump told Bill O’Reilly in April 2016. “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.”
Then, during the same July 2016 news conference where he called upon Russian hackers to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails, Trump said, “I would treat Vladimir Putin firmly, but there’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly, as opposed to the way they are right now, so that we can go and knock out ISIS with other people.”