George Bush may have had a sense of his soul, and Barack Obama may have wanted a reset, but Donald Trump wants you to take Vladimir Putin at his word.
The Republican frontrunner appeared on ABC’s This Week on Sunday to discuss his statement from Friday that it was a “great honor” to be praised by Putin, who among other things on his extensively despotic resume, has propped up a Syrian dictator who massacres his people and suppresses journalists and domestic dissent. He also brushed off concerns Friday raised by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that Putin kills journalists.
Then again, this is Trump, a man who has proposed closing the Internet, shooting Bowe Bergdahl in the head and killing the families of terrorists.
During the interview with George Stephanopolous on Sunday, Trump said he wasn’t so sure Putin was culpable in the deaths of journalists.
“As far as the reporters are concerned—as far as the reporters are concerned, obviously I don’t want that to happen,” Trump assured Stephanopolous. “I think it’s terrible—horrible. But, in all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because I’ve been—you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”
There have been at least 56 confirmed deaths of journalists in Russia since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Putin has been in office as either prime minister or president since 1999. In 2010 alone, at least 10 journalists were killed, including 47-year-old Konstanin Popov, who was allegedly raped by police with a broom handle while in custody. Trump’s campaign did not respond when asked if the candidate was aware of these numbers.
“If he has killed reporters, I think that’s terrible,” Trump continued on Sunday. “But this isn’t like somebody that’s stood with a gun and he’s, you know, taken the blame or he’s admitted that he’s killed. He’s always denied it. He’s never—it’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody. So, you know, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. He has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”
Proof, of course, is incredibly important to Trump, as evidenced by the extensive information he has presented validating his claim that “thousands” of Muslims were cheering in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks.
Not only is Putin a man of integrity in Trump’s eyes, whose endorsement he is happy to accept, his actions are not even as bad as the United States government’s intervention in the Middle East.
When Trump has been pressed about the issue of Putin systemically silencing journalists in his own country, he balks and suggests that the United States has done “plenty of killing too.”
“Your comment—your comments seem to suggest some moral equivalence for the United States and Russia. Is that what you believe?” Stephanopolous asked incredulously.
“I'm not saying anything,” Trump said after drawing this exact comparison. “I'm saying, when you say a man has killed reporters, I'd like you to prove it. And I’m—I'm saying it would be a terrible thing if it were true, but I have never seen any information or any proof that he killed reporters, George. You're just saying, he killed reporters. You and other people tell me he killed reporters. I don't know that he killed reporters. I haven't seen it. If he did, I think it's despicable. I think it would be horrible. But you're making these accusations and I don't -- I don't see any proof.”
“And, by the way, he totally denies that he kills reporters. He totally denied it.”
Under President Trump, it seems, Vladimir Putin will be as good as his word.