Trump says he thought Putin "was negotiating" before invading Ukraine
Why it matters: Trump, who maintained a close working relationship with Putin during his presidency, has condemned the invasion as a "crime against humanity" but called Putin "very savvy" for recognizing two breakaway "republics" in eastern Ukraine as independent two days before Russian forces launched an attack on the entire country.
- He has taken heat from both Democrats and Republicans for declining to criticize Putin directly.
What he's saying: "I’m surprised," he told the Examiner on Tuesday. "I thought he was negotiating when he sent his troops to the border. I thought he was negotiating."
- "I thought it was a tough way to negotiate but a smart way to negotiate," Trump continued.
- "I figured he was going to make a good deal like everybody else does with the United States and the other people they tend to deal with — you know, like every trade deal. We've never made a good trade deal until I came along," he added.
- "And then he went in — and I think he’s changed. I think he’s changed. It’s a very sad thing for the world. He’s very much changed."
- Trump said that he gets a "bad rap" on his relationship with Putin. "I’ve been very, very tough on Putin," he said. "At the same time, I got along with him very well. But I got along with most [world leaders] very well."
Worth noting: Former national security adviser John Bolton said in an interview earlier this month that it's inaccurate to say Trump's behavior "deterred the Russians."
- "In almost every case" Trump would complain that the U.S. was "being too hard" on Russia, Bolton said.
- Trump has also faced accusations of withholding funding for Ukraine's military in order to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating the Biden family. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) says the move directly hurt Ukraine's ability to defend itself now.
Go deeper: The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis