ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday repeatedly confronted real-estate tycoon Donald Trump over his praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin last week.
Putin and Trump traded compliments last week, with the Russian president calling Trump a “very talented” person. Trump embraced Putin’s praise as a “great honour.”
Like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough before him, Stephanopoulos on Sunday asked Trump about Putin’s status as a strongman, including allegations that the Kremlin has been involved in orchestrating the deaths of political opponents and journalists.
Stephanopoulos particularly pressed Trump on his Friday “Morning Joe” comments, in which he said that “our country does a lot of killing, also.
“What killing sanctioned by the US government is like killing journalists?” Stephanopoulos said.
Trump then said, as he charged last week, that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton killed “thousands and thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of people” with her supposedly “horrible, horrible decisions.”
“That’s not killing by the United States government though. That’s not the same — ” Stephanopoulos interjected.
Trump then said there was no evidence that Putin or his government have participated in the killing of journalists.
“As far as the reporters are concerned, obviously, I don’t want that to happen. I think it’s horrible,” the mogul said.
“But, in all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that,” he added. “I don’t know that he has. And you’ve been able to prove that you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the names. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place. But I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody, in terms of reporters.”
Stephanopoulos then referred to a tweet from 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Friday, when he pointed out what he called “important distinction” between killings by Russia and the US.
“Does he know for a fact that he kills the reporters?” Trump said of Romney. “I don’t think anybody knows that. It’s possible that he does, but I don’t think it’s been proven. Yeah, sure, there are allegations. … But nobody’s proven he’s killed anybody.”
He added: “If he has killed reporters, I think that’s terrible. But this isn’t like somebody that stood with a gun and is taking the blame or is admitting that he’s killed. He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody. So you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country.”
“Your comments seemed to suggest a moral equivalence between the United States and Russia. Is that what you believe?” Stephanopoulos shot back.
“I’m not saying anything,” Trump responded.” I’m saying, when you say a man has killed reporters, I’d like you to prove it. And I’m saying it would be a terrible thing if it were true. But I’ve never seen any information or any proof that he killed reporters, George.”
He added: “You’re making these accusations, and I don’t see any proof. And by the way, he totally denies that he kills reporters.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 56 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992, including at least 23 since Putin took power in 2000. Not all of the deaths, however, appear to be related to the journalists’ work.
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