The president’s take on Kim’s record echoed past assessments of the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Trump brushed aside questions about killings of journalists and political opponents.
In an interview that was taped aboard Air Force One while Trump was flying back to the United States from Singapore, he was pressed by Fox News’s Bret Baier on Kim’s human rights record. Baier noted that Trump had praised Kim as “a very talented person” and had said they have good chemistry.
“You know you call people sometimes killers; he is a killer,” Baier said. “He’s clearly executing people.”
“He’s a tough guy,” Trump replied. “Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, with tough people, and you take it over from your father, I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have. If you can do that at 27 years old, I mean that’s one in 10,000 that could do that. So he’s a very smart guy. He’s a great negotiator. But I think we understand each other.”
“But he’s still done some really bad things,” Baier said.
“Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things,” Trump said. “I mean, I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.”
Trump said he was making his assessment of Kim based on the period during which they had gotten to know one another.
“I am going from today,” he said. “I am going from maybe 90 days ago. Because we really started this.”
Trump’s comments were condemned on social media Wednesday night by several Democrats, including Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).
“Trump can’t conceal his admiration for despots, or his disdain for democratic leaders like Justin Trudeau. And still, Republicans stay silent,” Schiff wrote on Twitter, referring to the Canadian prime minister, whom Trump accused of unfairly undermining him on trade over the weekend.
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had not set aside concerns about North Korean human rights abuses by meeting directly with Kim.
“The president has raised North Korea’s human rights record and some of the abuses of the North Korean regime on a number of occasions,” Sanders said. “He also raised them at the summit that took earlier this week. But the focus of the summit was denuclearization and peace on the peninsula, and that was the purpose of the president’s conversation.”
While a Republican presidential candidate, Trump downplayed hostile actions by Putin.
During a December 2015 episode of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough pointed out to Trump that Putin “is a person who kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries.”
“Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?” Scarborough asked.
“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump responded.
“But, again,” Scarborough said. “He kills journalists that don’t agree with him.”
“Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe,” Trump said.
In February 2017, during an interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, Trump said he “respects” Putin and downplayed O’Reilly’s description of him as a “killer.”
“There are a lot of killers,” Trump said. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think, our country’s so innocent?”
Anne Gearan contributed to this report.