Putin's invasion of Ukraine:
Statements on the Clay & Buck podcast
'Smart' and 'very savvy'
He repeated his praise at the CPAC
A long history of Putin fandom
'I know him very very well'
He met him six times as president
Not like other presidents
Secretive
Chats over dinner and an opera
Very cozy
With Zelenskiy, not so much
Lost in transition
A quid pro quo: dig up dirt on Joe Biden
'I would like you to do us a favor though...'
The phone call that got him impeached
Mueller investigated Russian 'collusion'
Ties between Trump's 2016 campaign and Putin
Why was he so into Putin?
Trump sought a deal in Moscow
Trump Tower
100 stories high
With a free penthouse for Putin
He wanted them to
Miss Universe in Russia
The lasting dream of Trump Tower Moscow
Fast forward: 2022... and 2024?
Repeated claims of a 'stolen' election
Admiration for Putin's 'strong' army
Idea for the border with Mexico?
Trump and Putin: a look at their long friendship
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Putin's invasion of Ukraine: "This is genius"

On February 21, Vladimir Putin declared two regions of Ukraine 'independent' and invaded the neighboring country to 'protect the peace' there. While the world protested this violation of Ukraine's sovereignty, Donald Trump was watching tv and said to himself: "This is genius."

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Statements on the Clay & Buck podcast

That's what he told the Clay & Buck radio show the next day. "I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, 'This is genius.' Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful."

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'Smart' and 'very savvy'

The transcript of the podcast adds that he had a 'sarcastic' tone in his voice as he said it, suggesting he didn't 'really' think the invasion was 'wonderful.' But he did think Putin's actions were "genius," adding the explanation that it was a "smart" thing for Putin to attack a country and call it a 'peace mission.' "Here’s a guy who’s very savvy," he said.

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He repeated his praise at the CPAC

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, on February 26, Trump doubled down on his controversial statements about Putin being "savvy." He said: "The problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course he's smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb."

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A long history of Putin fandom

Trump's admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin has been obvious for years. His statements about the attack on Ukraine are in line with others from the past about his veneration for the autocrat's government style, his access to great wealth, his network of oligarchs, and his geopolitical muscle-flexing.

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'I know him very very well'

Trump claims to be close to Vladimir Putin. "I know him very well. Very, very well," he told Clay & Buck. Let's have a look at the most obvious signs of Trump's admiration of the Russian autocratic leader, both before and during his presidency.

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He met him six times as president

During the one term that Donald Trump was U.S. president, he met Vladimir Putin face to face at least six times. They also made numerous phone calls.

 

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Not like other presidents

While this is normal for a sitting president, the Washington Post and New York Times have noted Trump's complete disregard for diplomatic guidelines during those talks and the secrecy surrounding them. Some of the things Putin and Trump discussed are known to the public, as they should, but other talks have been kept secret to this day.

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Secretive

Trump would kick aides and reporters out of the room, the Washington Post recalls, and he also "took his interpreter's notes after [the first meeting in 2017] and ordered him not to disclose what he heard to anyone," says the New York Times.

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Chats over dinner and an opera

"Later that night, at a dinner, Mr. Trump pulled up a seat next to... Putin to talk without any American witnesses at all," The New York Times added. On another occasion, the Financial Times got wind of a similar, unsupervised chat between Putin, Trump and their wives at the Buenos Aires opera house. According to an unnamed Russian official they talked about several topics, including Ukraine and Syria.

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Very cozy

During public appearances, President Trump was always very friendly towards his Russian colleague. He trusted him completely when Putin said his country had nothing to do with any foreign interference in the 2016 elections. He also praised Putin regularly, for example for Russia's organization of the soccer World Cup in 2018 or his military strategies in Syria and the Middle East.

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With Zelenskiy, not so much

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy had a different experience. Trump long denied him a meeting at the White House. He also held back military aid to Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress.

 

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Lost in transition

Around the time when Zelenskiy became president, Trump fired the American ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, making it harder for the two countries to maintain their relationship during this important transition period. All of these actions helped Putin, the Washington Post argues.

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A quid pro quo: dig up dirt on Joe Biden

Thanks to a whistleblower inside the White House, it became known that Trump was answering Zelenskiy's requests for help with a suggested 'quid pro quo.' Trump and his team wanted Zelenskiy to dig up dirt on presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who had done business in Ukraine.

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'I would like you to do us a favor though...'

One particular phone call with Zelenskiy became the 'smoking gun' in this scandal which would lead to Trump's impeachment by the House. (He was acquitted by the Senate.)

 

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The phone call that got him impeached

Zelenskiy asked if Ukraine could purchase Javelin anti-tank missiles from the U.S., and Trump answered by saying: "I would like you to do us a favor though..." It was like a scene from a 'Godfather' movie, but Trump himself would later declare that it was "a perfect call."

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Mueller investigated Russian 'collusion'

Another eye-opener about Trump's connections with Russia and Putin was the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. The team researched for Congress whether Russian entities had meddled in the 2016 presidential elections. They concluded that, even though there were indications, they could not prove a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Russian officials.

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Ties between Trump's 2016 campaign and Putin

Mueller's research followed the revelation that Trump aides, such as national security advisor Mike Flynn, had met secretly with Russian officials in the months between the 2016 elections and Trump's inauguration. Media called such alleged cooperation between Russia and Trump 'collusion.'

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Why was he so into Putin?

But why would Trump risk getting into trouble by siding with Russians during and after his presidential campaign? Why did he want to please Putin so much?

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Trump sought a deal in Moscow

Media such as Business Insider and the Washington Post have outlined how Trump's interests as a businessman often went together with his behavior as a media personality and a statesman. "Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment," Trump said in a 2007 deposition, cited by the Washington Post. "We will be in Moscow at some point."

(Image: Donald and Ivana Trump in St. Petersburg in the summer of 1987)

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Trump Tower

From the first time he visited the country in 1987, Donald Trump and his family tried to get local support and funding for a Trump Tower in Moscow. They made several attempts over three decades to get a deal with investors and administrators.

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100 stories high

Even as he began campaigning for the presidency in 2015, with the slogan 'Make America Great Again,' Trump was "still searching for a Russian partner" in Moscow, the Washington Post reconstructed. "He proposed a Trump Tower that would be a bold glass obelisk 100 stories high. By October [2015], he signed a nonbinding letter of intent to construct his building."

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With a free penthouse for Putin

As late as the summer of 2016, when Trump was getting closer and closer to the presidency, his lawyer Michael Cohen continued to schmooze with Russian politicians. In fact, the Washington Post reports, Trump asked Cohen "to offer Putin a free penthouse, valued at $50 million, atop his planned tower."

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He wanted them to "get along"

CNN listed 80 comments Trump made about Putin from 2013 through early 2017, the time of his inauguration as president. Both as a businessman and a presidential candidate, Trump had claimed multiple times that he believed president Putin and he would "get along very well."

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Miss Universe in Russia

When Trump's beauty pageant, Miss Universe, was held in Moscow in 2013, he repeatedly said that he hoped Putin would attend the pageant. "Will he become my new best friend?" he tweeted earlier that year. In the end, the Russian president didn't come but sent him a gift and a message. Trump gushed over it, as CNN reports.

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The lasting dream of Trump Tower Moscow

Over time, media like the Washington Post and Forbes have revealed the monetary drive for Trump's pursuit of Putin and his circle of oligarchs: he wanted his Tower in Moscow. The Washington Post suggests that Trump may still be interested in building his Russian Tower, to this day.

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Fast forward: 2022... and 2024?

In and of itself, mixing personal interests with governance as a president is already concerning. But Trump's infatuation with Putin, rather than another, more democratic world leader, worries political analysts even more. Media like the New York Times have suggested that his praise for Putin in 2022 doesn't bode well for his possible candidacy as U.S. president in 2024 - and his policies in 2025, should he get elected.

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Repeated claims of a 'stolen' election

For one, Trump's denial of the election outcome of 2020 and his party's breakdown on open elections in several American states rhymes with the autocratic government tactics of Vladimir Putin. As he told Clay & Buck in February 2022, "what went wrong [in the Ukraine crisis] was a rigged election, and what went wrong is a candidate that shouldn’t be there..."

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Admiration for Putin's 'strong' army

Another point of concern is Trump's veneration of Putin's military prowess. While claiming the Russian leader was "very savvy," Trump also said that his so-called 'peace force' was "the strongest peace force." Trump's words: "That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right."

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Idea for the border with Mexico?

In fact, he said, "we could use that on our southern border," referring to Putin's invasion. He implied the U.S. may copy Putin's operation to 'defend' the southern border with Mexico or perhaps even send a 'peace force' into the neighboring country. Let's hope this was just a brain fart of Donald Trump and not a serious policy proposal.

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