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Trump defends Putin on Russia’s propaganda network. His campaign says it was an accident.

The RT interview came on the same day Trump surrogates were busy praising Putin on TV.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was doing “a favor” for his friend and television host Larry King when he “accidentally” did an interview on the Russian government-sponsored network RT, shorthand for Russia Today.

“Mr. Trump was never told it would be shared anywhere else,” Jason Miller, a Trump spokesperson, told CNN, explaining that the interview was meant as a “favor” to King. Miller also told the network that “Trump wouldn’t have agreed to do the interview had he known it would be aired on RT.”

During Thursday’s RT interview, Trump shrugged off suggestions the Russian government was influencing the American presidential election, instead hinting that Democrats were the ones behind the Democratic National Committee hacking scandal. U.S. intelligence agencies now have “high confidence” that the Russian government was likely involved.

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“I think it’s probably unlikely [Russia was involved]. Maybe the Democrats are putting that out — who knows,” Trump told King. “If they are doing something, I hope that somebody’s going to be able to find out so they can end it. Because that would not be appropriate at all.”

Even if Trump just meant for the comments to wind up for King’s podcast, his appearance on RT comes just one day after he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a better leader than U.S. President Obama during a Commanders-in-Chief candidates’ forum with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

“He’s been a leader far more than our president has been a leader,” Trump said during the NBC forum, pointing to Putin’s alleged 82 percent approval rating and respect on the world stage.

On Thursday, Trump’s campaign leaders and surrogates did the TV rounds and defended Trump’s praise of Putin.

“I think it’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country,” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said. But Pence also hedged on praising Trump, remarking that Trump “doesn’t particularly like the system” in reference to Putin’s dictatorship.

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Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, echoed those sentiments, saying that Putin was a “stronger leader” than Obama.

And top Trump foreign policy adviser General Michael Flynn has in the past suggested that there was no difference between RT, a state-run network and CNN.

Putin’s rule has not boded well for many parts of the world. Violating international law in 2014, he forcibly annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, justifying that he was taking back a symbol of Russia’s “past military glory,” as NPR reported. Last year, Boris Nemtsov, a high-profile opposition leader and former first deputy prime minister, was shot dead days in a public place just days before he was leading “a rally to protest the war in Ukraine,” the New York Times reported at the time.

Putin also provides military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, stating that they were launching airstrikes in a war against extremists, “but in actuality hammering the Syrian opposition forces seeking to bring down the regime,” Foreign Policy reported last year. Assad has been widely denounced by the United States, with Obama calling him a “tyrant.” And Putin goes against many of the liberties and freedoms that the United States stands for, including cracking down and censoring journalists and upholding harsh anti-gay laws. According to Politifact, “at least 34 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 2000,” including the double murder of a human rights lawyer and a freelancer for an opposition newspaper in 2011; a reporter who covered human rights abuses inflicted during the war in Checnya in 2006, and another reporter who reported on government corruption in 2000.

Update:

A spokesperson for Ora TV wrote in an email that Trump’s interview on “PoliticKING with Larry King” was produced and distributed by Ora Media and that RT America was “one of several dozen companies” allowed to broadcast the show through a licensing agreement.