Asked on Fox about the Kremlin chiefs bloody reputation, the US president said: Weve got a lot of killers. Do you think our countrys so innocent?
Donald Trump has once again said that he respects Vladimir Putin, even though the Russian president is a killer.
Speaking to Fox News, the president appeared to place the US and Russia on the same moral plane in an interview to be broadcast before the most American of sporting events, Super Bowl LI, kicks off in Houston on Sunday.
Asked by host Bill OReilly if he respected Putin, Trump replied: I do respect Putin.
Trumps respect for and willingness to work with Putin was a familiar trope during an election which the major US intelligence agencies believe Russian intelligence sought to influence on Trumps behalf. Such beliefs prompted a fierce split between Trump and the intelligence community which has not yet healed.
Trump continued: I respect a lot of people, but that doesnt mean Im going to get along with them. He is a leader of his country. I say its better to get along with Russia than not and if Russia helps us in the fight against Isis which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world, major fight, thats a good thing.
Will I get along with him? I have no idea. Its very possible I wont.
Hes a killer, though, OReilly said. Putins a killer.
There are a lot of killers, Trump answered. Weve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our countrys so innocent?
According to the Committee to Project Journalists, 36 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992, 23 since Putin first became president in 2000. Most famously Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in 2006 while investigating torture in Chechnya.
The subject has arisen before in connection with Trumps view of the Russian president. In December 2015, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough told Trump: He kills journalists that dont agree with him.
Trump answered: Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.
The same week, Trump told ABC News: In all fairness to Putin, youre saying he killed people. I havent seen that. I dont know that he has.
He added: If he has killed reporters I think thats terrible. But this isnt like somebody thats stood with a gun and hes taken the blame or hes admitted that hes killed. Hes always denied it.
Its never been proven that hes killed anybody, so you know youre supposed to be innocent until proven guilty at least in our country he has not been proven that hes killed reporters.
Trump has said he accepts reports that Russia was behind hacks against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, but rejected the notion that he could not have won the White House without Russian help. Investigations into links between Trump aides and Russian actors are ongoing.
Critics of Trump have often raised the subject of Putins murderousness. The Arizona senator John McCain, a fierce opponent of lifting sanctions on Russia, a prospect with which Trump has flirted, has said the Russian president is a murderer and a thug.
When you see… people who are not citizens and they are [on] the registration rolls… its a really bad situation, Trump was quoted as saying.
Trump said he was willing to work with both Kiev and Moscow to resolve the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, following a telephone call with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko on Saturday.
The call was the first direct contact between the two leaders since the inauguration of Trump, whose aim to improve relations with the Kremlin has alarmed Kiev while the nearly three-year-old conflict remains unresolved.
It followed fresh artillery attacks in Ukraines Donbass region, which broke a lull in shelling at a frontline hot-spot that had raised hopes the conflicts worst escalation in months was waning.
We will work with Ukraine, Russia, and all other parties involved to help them restore peace along the border, Trump said in a White House statement after talking to Poroshenko.