MSNBC Busts Donald Trump On His Putin Claims

by Chris Tognotti

This week, following the release of tens of thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, the political media has been tugged in two different directions ― analyzing them and what they show about the committee's apparent bias against Bernie Sanders, and examining who stole and leaked them. And, on the latter point, whether Russia committed the hack to help GOP nominee Donald Trump, and whether he has ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Well, on Friday, MSNBC busted Trump on his self-described "relationship" with Putin, digging up a piece of footage the real estate magnate surely would rather stay hidden.

Trump's attitude towards Putin throughout the course of his campaign could best be described as occasionally fawning, and always deferential. Shortly after announcing his presidential bid, Trump said he thought he'd "get along" with Putin. Since then, he's lauded the high ratings of an episode of 60 Minutes they appeared on together, defended Putin against accusations of killing dissident journalists (he called him "a leader"), and accepted Putin's compliment (the Russian leader called Trump a "genius"), refusing to disavow it.

Then, on Thursday, in a press conference heavily scrutinized for what Trump said about the DNC email hacks, he claimed that he'd never even met the guy, saying "I never met Putin," and "I don’t know who Putin is." Within hours, MSNBC's Thomas Roberts blew his cover.

Roberts played a clip from a 2013 interview he conducted with Trump while the current GOP nominee was in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant. And in it, well, he's pretty unambiguous about his coziness with the Russian president, recognized by countless critics and human rights observers as an authoritarian strongman. Says Trump:

I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he's very interested in what we're doing here today ― he's probably very interested in what you and I are saying today, and I'm sure he's going to be seeing it in some form, but I do have a relationship with him.

Trump went on the praise Putin's decision-making in Syria (he's long been an ally of the ruling government of Bashar al-Assad, also a dictatorial strongman), and compared him favorable to President Obama, saying he'd "eaten our President's lunch."

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

To be clear, it's not exactly new news that Trump is changing his story about Putin, and seems at times downright enamored with the guy. He's swung back and forth between remarking fondly about his leadership and talking up their possible relationship to denying any knowledge of him before, in keeping with his wild flip-flops and contradictions he's voiced all throughout his campaign.

And it's also not clear whether Trump was telling the truth to Roberts back in 2013 ― as Business Insider's senior editor Josh Barro tweeted on Thursday, it's entirely possible that Trump was lying about knowing Putin to puff himself up. But it just goes to show how little he cares to make his explanations and denials actually mesh with publicly available facts, and that's something concerning in a would-be president's disposition.