President Donald Trump has declared his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, making the extraordinary claim that the United States isn’t “innocent” and has “a lot of killers,” too.
In an interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, Mr Trump again confirmed his respect for Mr Putin and his strong leadership.
“But he’s a killer. Putin’s a killer,” O’Reilly said to Mr Trump.
“There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?” Mr Trump replied.
In the interview, Mr Trump signalled that US-Russia relations could be in line for a makeover, even after US intelligence agencies determined that Russia meddled in the US presidential campaign.
“I do respect him,” Mr Trump said.
“I respect a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not.
“And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world, that’s a good thing.”
But the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has distanced himself from the Russian President.
“Putin’s a former KGB agent. He’s a thug. He was not elected in a way that most people would consider a credible election,” Senator McConnell told CNN’s State of the Union.
“The Russians annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine and messed around in our elections. And no, I don’t think there’s any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.”
And it isn’t the first time Mr Trump has voiced support for the controversial Russian leader.
President skirts voter fraud question
O’Reilly also asked Mr Trump to back up his claims that millions of illegal votes were cast in the election.
Mr Trump didn’t answer directly, but asserted that immigrants in the US illegally and dead people were on the voter rolls.
“It’s a really a bad situation, it’s really bad,” he said.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the November 8 election, in which Mr Trump won the Electoral College vote but lost the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes to opponent Hillary Clinton.
Mr Trump recently announced on Twitter that he would call for a “major investigation” into voter fraud, but the plan for Mr Trump to take some type of executive action on the issue has been delayed, senior administration officials said last week.
Watch some of the Fox interview
O’Reilly asked Mr Trump if he was concerned he “can’t back up factually” his alleged fraud.
“Many people have come out and said I’m right,” Mr Trump responded.
“I know, but you have to have the data to back that up,” O’Reilly said.
“When you see illegals … and they’re on the registration rolls, look, Bill, we can be babies…[or see that] it’s really a bad situation,” Mr Trump fired back.
“So you think you’re going to be proven correct?” O’Reilly asked.
“I think I already have,” Mr Trump claimed.
– with ABC/AP