Trump Denies Putin Ties Amid Queries on Embrace of U.S. Foe

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RUSSIA VTB FORUM

Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, speaks on the opening day of the VTB Capital Investment Forum in Moscow on Oct. 13, 2015.

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg
  • Reverses statements that he had an association with Russian
  • Suggests people of Crimea support annexation the U.S. opposes

Donald Trump backtracked on claims that he’s had “a relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid questions about his embrace of a traditional U.S. adversary at a time Russia’s been implicated in hacking Democratic Party computers.

“I have no relationship with Putin,” the Republican presidential nominee said several times during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that aired on Sunday. “He said very nice things about me, but I have no relationship with him.”

Trump also said that he had “never met” Putin and had “never spoken to him on the phone,” although Trump also hedged by saying he didn’t think he’d ever met Putin and thought he would remember if he had.

The Daily Beast this week uncovered a 2013 interview with Trump in Moscow in which he said, “I do have a relationship” with Putin, although the two men didn’t meet, according to the report. He wondered on Twitter in 2013 whether Putin would show up at the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Moscow -- “if so, will he become my new best friend?”

DNC Hacking

Trump’s possible ties to Putin have come under scrutiny since he said on July 27 that he hoped Russia, which is said to have hacked the Democratic National Committee, could find deleted messages sent by Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state.

Democrats have suggested that Trump’s and Putin’s amity provided the reasoning for the hacks, if Russia hopes to influence the outcome of the presidential election. (After a backlash, Trump said he was being “sarcastic” in the remarks about Russia and hacking.)

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, which released more than 19,000 hacked e-mails from the DNC on July 22, refused repeatedly on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday to say whether the Russian government provided the documents, adding only that a foreign government theoretically acting as a source was an “interesting question.”

Manafort’s Ukrainian Ties

Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked in 2010 for pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally, helping him win an election as Ukraine’s president. ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Trump whether his campaign had worked to soften language toward Ukraine in the official Republican platform.

“I was not involved in that,” Trump said. “I’d have to take a look at it.”

Manafort said on “Meet the Press” that the platform changes on Ukraine “absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign” or him specifically.

Trump said that Putin was “not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down,” prompting some to wonder if the billionaire was unaware that Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, drawing sanctions from the U.S. and European Union. At the time Putin proclaimed a duty to defend the ethnic Russians who dominate the population there.

“Russia is already in Ukraine.  Does he not know that?  What else doesn’t he know?” Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser for Clinton, said in an e-mailed response. “He gamely repeated Putin’s argument that Russia was justified in seizing the sovereign territory of another country by force.”

‘Need to be Firm’

Asked if the U.S. would improve its relationship with Russia by “bowing to the annexation of Crimea,” Trump reflected on the pro-Russian sentiment among some in the disputed area. “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,”’ he said. “You have to look at that.”

Manafort, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said Trump “has made it very clear he views Russia to be somebody that we need to be firm with.”

“Mr. Trump has said on the campaign trail the biggest threat is failed leadership on the part of Obama and Clinton,” he said. “He views Russia as a foreign power head that has its own interests at stake, and we, the United States, have to put America’s interest first.”

On ABC, Trump rebuffed the idea of financial ties to Russia, saying he didn’t owe money to anyone in Russia or, given his companies’ history of bankruptcies in the U.S., had been forced to turn to banks or wealthy individuals there for financing.

“I have no relationship to Russia whatsoever,” he said. “If I need debt, if I want debt, I can get it from banks in New York City very easily.”

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