(Foreign Policy illustration/Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
(Foreign Policy illustration/Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)


Trump on Putin: The U.S. President’s Views, In His Own Words

A history of contradictory statements from 2015 to the present.

June 16, 2015: In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on the day he announced his presidential candidacy, Trump says: “I was over in Moscow two years ago and I will tell you—you can get along with those people and get along with them well. You can make deals with those people. Obama can’t.”

June 17, 2015: When asked by Fox News’ Sean Hannity if he had ever had any contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump says, “Yes.” He explains: “So I was there two years ago. We had a tremendous success with the Miss Universe contest in—I own Miss Universe, Miss USA, all of that, and it does great. It’s on NBC, but that’s OK. But it does fantastically well.”

Oct. 6, 2015: In a conversation with conservative radio host Michael Savage, Trump claims to have met Putin. “Yes, a long time ago. We got along great, by the way.”

Dec. 20, 2015: In an interview with ABC’s This Week, Trump appears skeptical of allegations that Putin has ordered the killing of journalists who engage in political dissent. “As far as the reporters are concerned, obviously I don’t want that to happen. I think it’s terrible—horrible. But, 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 name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”

Jan. 26, 2016: In an interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo, Trump appears skeptical of the findings of a British inquiry that concluded Putin “probably approved” the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. “Have they found him guilty?” Trump says. “I don’t think they’ve found him guilty. … If he did it, fine. But I don’t know that he did it. You know, people are saying they think it was him, it might have been him, it could have been him. But Maria, in all fairness to Putin—I don’t know. You know, and I’m not saying this because he says, ‘Trump is brilliant and leading everybody’—the fact is that, you know, he hasn’t been convicted of anything.”

Feb. 17, 2016: Trump insists at a rally that he has no relationship with Putin. “I have no relationship with him other than he called me a genius,” Trump says. “He said, ‘Donald Trump is a genius, and he is going to be the leader of the party, and he’s going to be the leader of the world or something.’”

April 26, 2016: In a victory speech after a series of primaries, Trump declares, “We’re going to have a great relationship with Putin and Russia.”

May 5, 2016: Trump refuses to answer Fox News’ Bret Baier when asked if he had ever met Putin. “Yeah, I have no comment on that,” he says. Later, he adds, “Yeah, but I don’t want to comment because, let’s assume I did. Perhaps it was personal. You know, I don’t want to hurt his confidence. But I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago—Miss Universe contest—which is a big, incredible event, and incredible success. I got to meet a lot of people. And you know what? They want to be friendly with the United States. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got with somebody?”

July 25, 2016: After emails from the Democratic National Committee leaked to the public via an apparent hack, Trump tweets: “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC emails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”

July 27, 2016: In an explosive news conference, Trump insists that he had never met Putin and didn’t know who he was: “I never met Putin,” Trump says. “I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius. I said, ‘Thank you very much’ to the newspaper, and that was the end of it. I never met Putin.” He also says, “I would treat Vladimir Putin firmly, but there’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly, as opposed to the way they are right now,so that we can go and knock out ISIS together.” Later in the same press conference, Trump calls on Russia to find Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” Trump says.

July 31, 2016: Trump tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that under a Trump presidency, Putin is “not going into Ukraine.” “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand,” Trump says. “He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.” When pressed about Russia’s invasion of Crimea, Trump says, “OK—well, he’s there in a certain way. But I’m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He takes Crimea.”

Oct. 17, 2016: Trump tells radio host Michael Savage that he would be in favor of meeting with Putin before the start of the new administration if he were elected. “I could see myself meeting with Putin and meeting with Russia prior to the start of the administration,” he says. “I think it would be wonderful.” Later in the interview, he criticizes Clinton for talking “so tough” on Russia, arguing, “She talks tough with Russia. She shouldn’t be talking so tough. Frankly, if we got along with Russia and knocked out ISIS, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Oct. 19, 2016: In the third presidential debate, Trump responds to Clinton’s charge that he is Putin’s puppet by saying, “No puppet. You’re the puppet.” He again denies having met Putin and argues that Putin had “outsmarted” Clinton and then-President Barack Obama.

Dec. 30, 2016: President-elect Trump says he had always known that Putin was “smart” after the Russian leader delayed his response to Obama’s diplomatic sanctions. The comment comes one day after Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the country as punishment for Russia’s hacks into the Democratic Party.

Jan. 11, 2017: Trump says he believes that Russia was behind the Democratic headquarters hacking during the 2016 election. But he boasts that Russia would respect his administration more and says that having a good relationship with Russia is an asset.

Feb. 16, 2017: During a press conference, Trump claims that he had “nothing to do with Russia” and had only spoken to Putin twice. “I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia,” he says.

July 9, 2017: After his first face-to-face meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit, Trump tweets that he had pressed the Russian leader on election meddling — which Putin “vehemently denied” — and that the two didn’t discuss U.S. sanctions on Russia because issues in Ukraine and Syria remained unresolved.

March 21, 2018: Justifying his congratulatory phone call to Putin for the Russian president’s re-election, Trump tweets, “Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

June 6, 2018: Before the G-7 summit, Trump asks, “Why are we having the meeting without Russia being in the meeting? Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it.” Russia has been excluded from the group since its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

July 16, 2018: During his historic summit with Putin in Helsinki, Trump claims that he doesn’t see “any reason why it would be” Russia that meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a stance that stands in direct contradiction to the consensus among the U.S. intelligence community. He also blames the United States for being “foolish,” which he says led to the tension between Washington and Moscow.

July 17, 2018: Trump walks back his comments in Helsinki by claiming that he misspoke during the press conference with Putin: “I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia.'” Written in the margins of his speech is the phrase “THERE IS NO COLUSION,” with the word “collusion” misspelled.

July 18, 2018: Trump says, “Thank you very much, no,” when a reporter asks him whether Russia is still targeting the United States, whereas Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said the contrary last week. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later attempts to explain this contradiction by saying that the president merely said “no” to decline to comment.

July 18, 2018: In a CBS interview, Trump claims that he would hold Putin personally responsible for Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “I would, because he’s in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country,” Trump says. “So certainly as the leader of the country you would have to hold him responsible.”

[To read the full transcript of the Trump-Putin press conference in Helsinki on Monday—including the bit that the White House edited out from its transcript—click here.]

Amy Cheng is an editorial intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @Amy_23_Cheng
Humza Jilani is an editorial intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @humza_jilani