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Trump on Defense Over Reputed Ties to Moscow

Donald Trump was still on defense over the weekend — on various fronts — first saying that he has 'no relationship' with Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Republican President candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver, Colorado on July 29, 2016.JASON CONNOLLY / AFP - Getty Images

Donald Trump was still on defense over the weekend — on various fronts — saying that he has “no relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite an interview in 2013 with MSNBC where Trump himself stated the opposite.

"I do have a relationship and I can tell you that he's very interested in what we're doing here today," Trump said at the time, in an interview with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, then in Moscow.

But Sunday morning on ABC, Trump played semantics — asking “what do you a call a relationship?” and “I don’t know what it means by having a relationship" — before pointing out that he feels Putin “treats me with great respect” but that the men do not know each other.

"I haven't spent time with him. I didn't have dinner with him. I didn't — go hiking with him. I don't know-- I-- I wouldn't know him from Adam except I see his picture, and I would know what he looks like,” Trump stated unequivocally.

But on the question of whether this connection could be put to rest by simply releasing his tax returns, Trump again blamed an ongoing IRS audit for why he would not be releasing them. As Trump explained it, even the years of his taxes no longer under audit are “linked” to those still being audited. An audit, by the way, does not legally preclude the release of these papers.

"If my audit’s finished, that’s great," Trump said, before reminding of former GOP standard bearer Mitt Romney’s late tax release day and how "they made him look so bad."

"I actually think he didn't lose because of the 47 percent. I think he lost because of a couple of really minor items in a tax return, where he did nothing wrong,” Trump surmised. "So it — it is unfair. But I will say, when I'm finished with the audit, I'll do it."

But Trump’s issues with Russia did not end by discussing Putin. The GOP nominee left open the possibility that he would recognize the annexation of Crimea as Russian territory in a press conference last week, telling a reporter "we’ll be looking at that, yeah."

When asked on ABC about annexed Crimea, Trump did not seem clear on the ongoing history in the region, first stating that Russia and Putin are "not going into Ukraine" then, after Stephanopoulous correcting that "he’s already there," saying "he’s there in a certain way. But I’m not there."

Trump then moved away from a chance to express his own policy on Crimea to blast Obama for the state of the region, calling "that whole part of the world a mess under Obama" and even lamenting the Russian taking of Crimea, which he said he may recognize as president.

Trump maintained, when asked, that he would still "take a look at it” and rationalized the decision by saying "the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.”

The businessman turned politician said “don’t blame Donald Trump” for the fact that Crimea has been taken and “Ukraine is a mess.” Under him, he once again promised, “we’ll have a better relationship with Russia."

But when the interview took a domestic turn, Trump was also put on the defensive, this time for hypocrisy on hiring foreign workers at his own Mar-A-Lago club in Palm Beach while he slams other companies for making products overseas.

Buzzfeed initially reported that Trump was putting out applications for 78 more foreign worker visas for his Mar-A-Lago location but Trump maintains that workers for the “social season” in Florida are hard to come by.

"It's very, very hard to get people in Palm Beach during the Palm Beach season. It's called the Palm Beach Social Season. And what we do is we some — sometimes have to bring people in,” Trump admitted before breaking off to lament that "our country doesn’t make products anymore."

When the Republican nominee was faced with the hiring numbers from 2010 — 300 US applicants, 17 hired in Mar-A-Lago with more than 500 visa applications, according to ABC — Trump absolved himself of direct blame saying he doesn’t do the hiring — and that "if you look at all of the other places in Palm Beach, they’re all doing exactly the same thing."