During the interview, Trump defended his efforts to build a personal relationship with Putin, despite Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
At the same time, Trump contended that he has been “far tougher on Russia than any president in many, many years, maybe ever.”
As evidence, Trump cited several sets of financial sanctions his administration has imposed on Russian oligarchs, companies and other government officials, as well as the expulsion of Russian diplomats after the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.
“Look at all the things that I have done,” Trump said. “Obama didn’t do it. . . . Obama was a patsy for Russia. A total patsy.”
Under the Obama administration, the United States issued multiple sanctions against Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Russia was also expelled from the Group of Eight forum during Obama’s watch.
In the CNBC interview, Trump also faulted his predecessor for an incident in March 2012 in which Obama told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would “have more flexibility” after the U.S. presidential election to negotiate on missile defense. The exchange was captured on a live microphone.
“Look at the statement he made. He thought the mics were turned off, okay, the stupid statement he made,” Trump told CNBC. “No one makes a big deal of that.”
During the interview, Trump brushed aside suggestions that Putin might hold some leverage over him because of his past business dealings in the country or for other reasons.
“It’s called the Democrat hoax,” Trump said. “It’s a big fat hoax.”
Trump also defended his performance at a news conference in Helsinki at the end of Monday’s summit with Putin. Trump was widely criticized by members of both political parties for not more aggressively confronting Putin about the 2016 election interference.
Trump said those in the media who said he should have publicly scolded Putin are “fools.”
“I want to make a deal,” Trump said. “You can’t do that.”
Trump said that if his efforts to improve relations with Putin do not work out, he is comfortable adopting a different posture.
“If that doesn’t work out, I’ll be the worst enemy he’s ever had,” he said. “I’ll be his worst nightmare.”