Trump said Monday that he would be willing to meet with Putin before Inauguration Day if he is elected president on Nov. 8. Such a meeting would break sharply with the precedent that a newly elected president defers to the sitting one in matters of state.
“I think I could see myself meeting with Putin and meeting with Russia prior to the start of the administration,” Trump told conservative radio host Michael Savage during an interview. “I think it would be wonderful.”
Trump said that “Putin has no respect at all for [President] Obama,” and suggested that he would command more of the Russian leader's respect.
The Clinton campaign accuses Russia of being behind a politically motivated computer breach of emails of the Democratic National Committee and of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The Kremlin goal, Clinton says, is to hurt her and help Trump because Russia considers Trump friendlier toward Russia.
The winner of the U.S. election will inherit the worst country-to-country relations with Russia in more than two decades — worse than the deep anger and suspicion on both sides when Obama took office in 2009, hard on the heels of Russia's war in Georgia and resulting U.S. sanctions and criticism.
Clinton, as secretary of state during Obama's first term, was charged with the “reset” of relations — an effort that largely failed and is now lampooned as naive. She has vowed a tough-minded approach if elected and says Trump is dangerously in thrall of the autocratic Putin.
Putin has presided over a consolidation of power in Russia, a rollback of free speech and human rights at home, an expansion of Russian territorial ambitions in Ukraine and an effort to protect Russia's autocratic ally in Syria.
Russia under Putin's second presidency also has shown less inclination to cooperate with the United States, although it helped negotiate the Iranian nuclear deal that Trump opposes and Clinton supports.
The troubled relationship has competed with the threat of terrorism from the Islamic State as the dominant foreign policy issue in an American election that has focused little on events and issues beyond U.S. shores, and lately overshadowed it.
In the interview Monday, Trump said that U.S.-Russian relations are at their worst point since the Cold War. He blamed Obama and Clinton.
“The problem is Putin has no respect for Obama, at all, doesn’t like him and doesn’t respect him. And Obama doesn’t like Putin. They have a great dislike for each other,” Trump said. “They insult him constantly. I mean, no wonder he can’t stand Obama and Hillary Clinton.”
Trump told Savage that he thinks he’s actually ahead in the polls, which show him trailing Clinton, and cited “tremendous enthusiasm” and crowd sizes at his rallies as evidence.
The anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks is releasing Podesta's hacked emails in batches. The campaign has neither verified nor denied their authenticity, pointing instead to what it calls the political and diplomatic implications of the release just weeks before the election.
The emails paint a sometimes unflattering portrait of a bureaucratic and cautious campaign laden with advisers inside and outside the headquarters in Brooklyn. There have been no bombshells among the communications released to date. There are, however, many embarrassing examples of Clinton and her advisers appearing calculating and political as they manage and micromanage her policy positions and decisions about the message and tone of her campaign.
Clinton's campaign is focused on the final presidential debate, on Wednesday, not the emails, Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said Tuesday.
“This is an effort that’s led by the Russians. Intelligence agencies have confirmed that that is designed to hurt our campaign, so we’re not spending a lot of our own internal time doing that,” Palmieri told reporters traveling to the Las Vegas debate aboard Clinton's plane.
“I will note that if we needed more evidence that this is an effort that’s controlled by the Russians, on more than one occasion Russia today has actually posted emails from WikiLeaks even ahead of WikiLeaks,” Palmieri said. “So it’s pretty clear that they’re helping.”