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President Donald Trump said in an interview Sunday that he respects Vladimir Putin and, when challenged that the Russian president is "a killer," he pushed back that the United States is not "innocent."
Trump made the remarks to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly before the Super Bowl on Sunday. Excerpts of the interview were released Saturday.
When O’Reilly asked why Trump respects Putin, the president said, "Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn't mean I'm going to get along with him."
When O’Reilly said, "Putin’s a killer," Trump responded: "There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?"
U.S. intelligence agencies have blamed Russia for being involved in cyber-attacks on Democratic Party institutions during the presidential election, and NBC News has reported that intelligence officials believe Putin was personally involved in the covert campaign.
Trump resisted those claims, but in January he acknowledged that Russia was involved. He said the cyber-attacks had no effect on the outcome. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Trump was also asked about claims that he has made, with no evidence, alleging that people illegally cast ballots in the election. The claim has been widely debunked.
"Well, many people have come out and said I am right, you know that," Trump said in the interview. O’Reilly replied, “I know, but you have to have data to back that up."
"Let me just tell you — when you see illegals, people that are not citizens and they are on the registration rolls," Trump countered. "Look Bill, we can be babies, but you take a look at the registration, you have illegals, you have dead people, you have this, it's really a bad situation, it's really bad."
O'Reilly then asked about Trump's relationship with Mexico, which was particularly strained after a phone call between Trump and Mexican president Peña Nieto. It was reported but not confirmed that Trump “threatened” to send troops to Mexico in the call with Nieto.
Both the U.S. and Mexico strongly denied the allegation.
"I know it with absolute certainty, there was no threat,” Peña Nieto’s spokesman, Eduardo Sanchez, said last week. “The things that have been said are nonsense and a downright lie."
Trump seemed to strike the middle ground between the two scenarios, suggesting that the Mexican president wanted U.S. boots on the ground.
"We have a very good relationship," Trump said. "He seemed very willing to get help from us because he has got a problem and it’s a real problem for us."
During Sunday's interview, the president seemed to also roll out a timeline for the implementation of his healthcare plan, which he intends to use as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
"I’d like to say by the end of the year, at least the rudiments," he said, while also calling the current health care system "a disaster."
That timeline would walk back his previously stated intention of having the health care system in place by the time he took office. On Jan. 10, Trump said Congress would repeal "probably some time next week" and replace "very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter."
He has not shared any details from his health care plan.