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Mike Pence says it’s ‘inarguable’ that Putin is a stronger leader than Obama

Pence defends Trump on 'this whole Putin thing' (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Thursday that he agrees with Donald Trump's  assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a stronger leader than President Obama.

"I think it's inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country," Pence said during an interview with CNN at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Thursday. "And that's going to change the day that Donald Trump becomes president of the United States of America."

Pence said Trump's bold statement is similar to some of those made by Reagan, who famously met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Pence clarified that Trump "doesn't particularly like" the way Putin, the Russian president, operates without the same checks and balances that exist in the United States.

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Trump regularly praises Putin and has continued to do so while faced with continued criticism for seeming to embrace the Russian leader, a former KGB intelligence officer whose administration has been accused of unfairly jailing and even killing political detractors and journalists. Trump's latest praise came Wednesday night during an NBC candidate forum.

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During the forum, Trump was asked what he would do to lessen tension between the United States and Russia. Trump responded that he expects to have a "very good relationship with many foreign leaders" and a "very, very good relationship with Putin," who he said could work with the United States to "knock the hell out of ISIS." NBC's Matt Lauer, who moderated the forum, then listed some of Trump's flattering comments about Putin.

"Well, he does have an 82 percent approval rating, according to the different pollsters, who, by the way, some of them are based right here," Trump said, cutting Lauer off.

Lauer then reminded Trump that Putin also annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supports Iran, "is trying to undermine our influence in key regions of the world" and is the prime suspect for hacking Democratic National Committee email.

"Well, nobody knows that for a fact," Trump said, cutting in. "But do you want me to start naming some of the things that President Obama does at the same time?"

Lauer responded: "But do you want to be complimented by that former KGB officer?"

The lesson of Vladimir Putin's popularity isn't the one Donald Trump seems to be taking

"Well, I think when he calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, okay? The fact is, look, it’s not going to get him anywhere," Trump said, then listing some of his campaign priorities.

Trump later continued: "If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him. I’ve already said, he is really very much of a leader. I mean, you can say, oh, isn’t that a terrible thing — the man has very strong control over a country. Now, it’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system. But certainly, in that system, he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader."