The Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Sunday pushed back on the notion that Russian President Vladimir Putin has killed journalists, saying that it’s “terrible” if it’s happened but he hasn’t seen proof that it has.
“In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because I’ve been – you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the names,” Trump said on ABC.
The Russian president, who some of Trump’s GOP rivals have called a “thug” and a threat, recently praised Trump as “bright and talented.”
When confronted with Mitt Romney’s tweet also alleging that Putin kills journalists and political opponents, Trump again dismissed the claims. “He’s always denied it,” Trump said of Putin. “He’s never – it’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody. So, you know, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. He has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked about a presumed moral equivalency innate in Trump’s answer, to which Trump fired back: “I’m saying, when you say a man has killed reporters, I’d like you to prove it.” Trump did add that if this had happened, it was “despicable.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists, however, does provide names of journalists killed in Russia, and notes that, since 1992, 56 journalists of various nationalities have been killed in the country.
An ex-KGB agent and former head of Russia's federal security service, Putin first took over the role of prime minister in 1999 and has held that title and president at various times over the past 16 years.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" Trump praised Putin's strength.
"What am I gonna say, he’s a weak leader?" asked Trump. "He’s making minced meat out of our president. He is a strong leader ... He can’t stand President Obama. I think it would be a positive thing if Russia and the United States actually got along and they could work to the mutual good of getting rid of ISIS."