Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized U.S. foreign policy and the American political press corps Thursday during an interview on RT America, a state-owned Russian television network.
In a wide-ranging interview that aired Thursday evening, Trump spoke with journalist Larry King about the presidential race, American intervention in Iraq and the Middle East, and the potential intrusion by Russian hackers into Democratic Party databases. RT, which airs in several countries in English and Russian, is funded by the Russian government; though it characterizes itself as independent, the network has been regularly accused of pro-Kremlin bias.
The interview came as Trump faced sustained criticism for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he has regularly done on the campaign trail — to the discomfort of many members of his own party, who have distanced themselves from the comments.
During an NBC presidential forum Wednesday evening, Trump went further in his praise and said that Putin has been a better leader than President Obama: “Certainly, in that system, he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader,” Trump said.
Asked during the RT America interview what has surprised him most about the political process, Trump unloaded on the American press.
“Well, I think the dishonesty of the media. The media has been unbelievably dishonest,” Trump responded. “I mean they’ll take a statement that you make which is perfect and they’ll cut it up and chop it up and shorten it or lengthen it or do something with it.”
“And all of a sudden it doesn’t look as good as it did when you actually said it. But there’s tremendous dishonesty with the media. Not all of it, obviously, but tremendous dishonesty,” he said.
The Trump campaign recently lifted a ban on various news outlets, including The Washington Post, which he accused of bias in its coverage.
Trump also dismissed accusations that he doesn’t have a firm grasp of military issues or a plan to combat the Islamic State. He said he has a “very distinct plan” and knocked foreign policy under Obama, Hillary Clinton, and former president George W. Bush.
“Hillary Clinton with her policies and Barack Obama — you know, look, we should have never gone into Iraq. Period. We should have never gone in. But once we went in, Larry, we shouldn’t have gotten out the way we got out. And the way they got out really caused ISIS, if you think about it. We got out in such a horrible, foolish fashion, instead of leaving some troops behind.”
When King asked Trump if he believed reports that Russian hackers may have targeted Democratic Party databases as part of an effort to influence the American presidential election, Trump said he did not believe that to be the case.
“I think it’s probably unlikely. I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows? But I think that it’s pretty unlikely,” he said. “I hope that if they are doing something I hope that somebody’s going to be able to find out so they can end it, because that would not be appropriate.”
King also asked Trump about Putin’s assertion that the hack was a “public service,” even as he claimed the Russian government was not involved.
“I don’t have any opinion on it. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know who hacked. I’m not sure. You tell me. Who hacked? Who did the hacking?” Trump said.
Trump’s critics have regularly insinuated that he is overly cozy with pro-Russian interests. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, came under fire last month after he was named in a Ukrainian corruption investigation that tied him to a pro-Kremlin political party. Manafort, who has since resigned from the campaign, denied all such connections.
Before that, Trump was widely condemned in July when, in an off-handed remark, he called on the Russian government to intervene in the election by releasing thousands of Clinton’s private emails. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said during a press conference at one of his South Florida resorts. He added later, “They probably have them. I’d like to have them released.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — one of Trump's closest advisers — received payment to deliver a speech at an RT party last year, where he sat next to Putin. In an interview with The Washington Post last month, he said that he saw no distinction between RT and news outlets like CNN or MSNBC.
Trump came under fire within minutes of the interview airing. Veteran GOP strategist John Weaver, a vocal anti-Trump Republican, expressed incredulity on social media.
“Condemning the free, 1st amendment protected American media on Russian owned @RT_com is outrageous, even by the lowest of Trump standards,” Weaver said in one tweet.
“I’m just stunned at the insanity of the campaign staff to even consider, allow a @RT_com interview, given the Russian ties already,” Weaver wrote in another tweet.
The Trump campaign played down the interview Thursday evening, explaining that they did not realize it would be broadcast on RT.
"Mr. Trump recorded a short interview with Larry King for his podcast as a favor to Mr. King. What Larry King does with the interview content is up to him; we have nothing to do with it," a Trump spokesperson told The Post.