'I got along': Trump avoids criticizing Putin

Alexander Zemlianichenko, File/AP Photo
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Former President Donald Trump on Thursday was given several chances during a Fox News interview to reject autocrats and walk back his praise for President Vladimir Putin of Russia but didn’t.

Fox’s Sean Hannity set Trump up multiple times during the 30-minute exchange to criticize Putin, but the former president didn’t go along. He instead touted his relationships with Putin, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Xi Jinping of China.

Trump came under fire last month for describing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as “genius” and “savvy,” keeping in line with his tendency to speak favorably of the Russian leader. Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Trump ally, broke with the former president this week, saying there was nothing “savvy or genius” about Putin. McCarthy went on to say that Putin was “evil,” condemning a war that has already left hundreds of civilians dead in Ukraine.

Hannity not once, but twice, brought up the blowback to Trump’s comments.

“I think you also recognize he’s evil, do you not?” the Fox host said.

Trump again didn’t go that far, but Hannity gave it another try.

“Let me go back to the issue of the criticism, because I’ve known you well over 25 years,” he said. “And when you got criticized for saying that Vladimir Putin is smart, we’ve had many conversations, and you’ve often quoted to me Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War’: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Is that how you viewed Vladimir? Did you view Vladimir Putin and people like President Xi and Kim Jong Un and the Iranian mullahs as enemies that you needed to keep close?”

Trump, in response, didn’t call his former counterparts enemies.

“I got along with these people. I got along with them well,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they are good people. It doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that I understood them and perhaps they understood me — maybe they understood me even better. That’s OK, because they knew there would be a big penalty.”

Hannity pressed yet again, telling the former president he wanted to understand his thinking, while also trying to put words into Trump’s mouth.

“The thinking is, we got along but you knew that they were looking out for their interests at all times,” Hannity said, with the former president interjecting, “One-hundred percent.”

The Fox News host continued: “And you understood that they were capable of evil things.”

“Putin is for Russia, and you see what happened,” Trump responded. “And that is all because they didn’t respect our leader. Look, there was nobody, and Putin will tell you this — if he was telling the truth, and I am sure he has told it to all of his inner sanctum — nobody was tougher on Russia than me.”