Senior US Republicans have condemned Donald Trump over a weekend interview with Fox News in which he defended Vladimir Putin.
Responding to a description of the Russian leader as a “killer”, the US president responded by suggesting that America was just as bad.
Asked why he respected Putin, Trump repeated his view previously aired during the election campaign.
“Well I respect a lot of people but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with them. 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 the fight against ISIS which is a major fight and Islamic terrorism all over the world, major fight, that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea. It’s very possible I won’t.”
Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News presenter, then took the president to task.
“He’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer,” he stated.
“A lot of killers. We got a lot of killers. You think our country is so innocent? You think our country is so innocent?” Trump replied.
O’Reilly: “I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers in America.”
Trump: “Take a look at what we’ve done too. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.”
O’Reilly: “Mistakes are different though.”
Trump: “A lot of mistakes. OK but a lot of people were killed so – a lot of killers around believe me.”
Some US Republicans have turned their fire on the president.
Representative Liz Cheney, the daughter of former US Vice-President Dick Cheney, said in a tweet that “suggesting moral equivalence between Putin’s Russia and the United States of America is deeply troubling and wrong”.
Referring to political activists being poisoned, Senator Marco Rubio argued “we are not the same as Putin”.
Describing Putin as a “thug” in an interview with CNN, Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell said Russia had annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine and “messed around” in US elections.
The Kremlin has demanded an apology from Fox News over what it said were “unacceptable” comments from the presenter. In the interview, broadcast before the Super Bowl on Sunday, O’Reilly did not say who he thought Putin had killed.
“We consider such words from the Fox TV company to be unacceptable and insulting, and honestly speaking, we would prefer to get an apology from such a respected TV company,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
According to the “Committee to Protect Journalists”:
https://cpj.org/killed/europe/russia/murder.php, 36 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992, 23 of them since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000.
In January 2016, a British inquiry concluded that Putin had probably approved a 2006 Russian intelligence operation to murder ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko by poisoning him in London.