President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin's relationship is complicated, to say the least. From Trump dodging accusations and claims that he may be somehow indebted to or at the behest of Putin and the Kremlin, for whatever reason (one claim early on was that Trump was allegedly being blackmailed, though those rumors remain unverified to this day and have been vehemently challenged by the White House), to Trump's continually glowing reviews of the Russian leader, the overall relationship remains convoluted. This week, Trump defended Vladimir Putin again, following a claim that Putin is "a killer" — but this time, Trump went one step too far in justifying his praise.
In an excerpt from an interview with Fox's Bill O'Reilly, set to air on Sunday before the Super Bowl, Trump told O'Reilly that he "respects Putin," according to Bloomberg News, despite the fact that many of the world's leaders see Putin as a threat at worst, and a manipulator at best. "I respect a lot of people but that doesn't mean I'm going to get along with him," Trump told O'Reilly, suggesting that his praise was founded in diplomacy. "He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in a major fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world — that's a good thing."
However, after O'Reilly suggested that "Putin is a killer" with a long list of troubling attributes and past actions, Trump replied,
There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country's so innocent?
To say that Trump's response was surprising might be an understatement. These are arguably not the words that many want to hear come out of the mouth of the person who is leading our country. And what, exactly, does Trump mean by that statement — that homicide rates are up in major cities across the United States? Or that the United States has had its hand in too many foreign conflicts? (Knowing Trump, it's likely not the latter.)
This isn't even the first time that Trump has implied that "our country does plenty of killing," according to The Washington Post. In 2015, during an interview with MSNBC's Morning Joe, Trump was faced with a question about Putin's alleged hit-orders on journalists with whom he disagreed, to which he replied,
Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.
Putin and Trump's relationship — which dates back to 2007 — is just as questionable as Trump's defense of Putin in Sunday's interview. In 2007 before Trump even started thinking of running for president, Trump told Larry King that Putin was doing a "great job" of rebuilding Russia, according to Mother Jones. In the years following that, Trump continued to praise Putin and even tweeted about becoming his "new best friend" in 2013. Since 2015, Putin has reportedly praised the president twice. But the two presidents have never actually met face to face, according to The Washington Post. According to The Guardian, Putin and Trump did speak on the phone last week and their conversation reportedly went well.
Trump and Putin's relationship and its impact on U.S. foreign policy is certainly questionable. With just two weeks as president under Trump's belt there is no telling what will become of their relationship for the next four years. But by Trump's words on Sunday it is clear that he's more than happy to play ball.