Trump praises Putin in spite of crackdown on dissent

By Ann Marie Awad  |  Dec. 18, 2015 at 12:38 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump batted away concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin, leaving MSNBC host Joe Scarborough visibly stunned.

Trump appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Friday by phone, with hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough kicking off the interview by taking Trump's temperature on recent praise from Putin.

Trump responded warmly to the question, telling Brzezinski: "Sure, when people call you 'brilliant' it's always good. Especially when the person heads up Russia."

Scarborough interjected: "Well, I mean, it's also a person who kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?"

"He's running his country, and at least he's a leader," Trump responded. "Unlike what we have in this country."

Scarborough pressed forward: "But again: He kills journalists that don't agree with him."

"I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know," Trump responded. "There's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that's the way it is. But you didn't ask me [that] question, you asked me a different question. So that's fine."

Scarborough paused. "I'm confused," he stammered. "So I mean, you obviously condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?"

"Oh sure, absolutely," Trump replied.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute have both slammed Putin in the past for suppressing dissent. According to Reporters Without Borders, 29 journalists have been killed with impunity under Putin's rule.

The exchange came one day after Putin praised Trump as "brilliant" and "talented." Trump has responded positively to the praise, telling Brzezinski and Scarborough later in the interview:

"I always felt fine about Putin. Think that he's a strong leader. He's a powerful leader ... He's actually got a popularity within his country. They respect him as a leader."

Trump's opponents in the GOP field have slammed the billionaire for his warm response to Putin. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tweeted Friday morning: "Does Donald even know Putin backs Iran/Assad? Does he care?"

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suggested Trump visit Ukraine to see "if Putin is really respected."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday: "I'm really glad not to win the Putin primary. Donald can win that one."

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