WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended himself for congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his recent re-election victory, blasting the news media as "crazed" over his desire for better relations with the Kremlin.
As he has in the past, Trump painted himself as the only man who could achieve what his predecessors had failed to do in terms of working with Putin. "Bush tried to get along, but didn't have the 'smarts.' Obama and Clinton tried, but didn't have the energy or chemistry," he tweeted.
Trump didn't indicate which fellow Republican president he was referring to — George W. Bush, or his father, George H.W. Bush.
The social media defense follows reports that Trump's advisers warned him to do anything but congratulate Putin on the call.
A senior administration official told The Associated Press Wednesday that part of Trump's briefing materials included an all-caps warning: "DO NOT CONGRATULATE." The Washington Post was first to report the warning Tuesday, the day the phone call occurred.
A White House official hedged on the story's accuracy when asked about it by NBC News Wednesday but said that if it were "accurate, that means someone leaked the president's briefing papers. Leaking such information is a fireable offense and likely illegal."
A source familiar with the matter told NBC that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is "frustrated and deeply disappointed" with the leak of the briefing notes for the president's call with Putin.
The White House on Tuesday defended Trump's handling of the call, in which he did not bring up election meddling or mention the recent poisoning of a former double agent on U.K. soil that the British government has squarely blamed on Russia.
When asked if Trump felt Russia's election, which excluded several Putin critics and sparked accounts of potential vote tampering, was "free and fair," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that it's not the United States' role to "dictate how other countries operate."
U.S. presidents have often spoken out against undemocratic elections — a custom Trump has not followed so far as president, marking a major departure from his predecessors. However, the Trump administration did impose sanctions on Venezuela last year in the wake of what it dubbed "sham" elections there.