President Donald Trump, in an interview with Fox News slated to air on Sunday, said he respects Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he’s not sure if he’ll “get along with him.”
When asked by Fox host Bill O’Reilly on Putin’s reputation, the president replied: “I do respect him.”
Trump added: “I respect a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with them. He is 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—major fight—that’s a good thing.”
“Will I get along with him? I have no idea. It’s very possible I won’t,” he added.
“He’s a killer, though,” O’Reilly responded. “Putin’s a killer.”
“There are a lot of killers,” Trump then told the Fox host. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”
Human rights groups have criticized Putin of targeting journalists who attempted to uncover alleged government abuses.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says 36 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992, with 23 killed when Putin first became president in 2000. The last journalist, Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, who worked for news outlet Novoye Delo, was found dead in July 2013, CPJ said.
Responding to allegations that Putin killed journalists, Trump told ABC News: “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has.”
Trump added: “If he has killed reporters I think that’s terrible. But this isn’t like somebody that’s stood with a gun and he’s taken the blame or he’s admitted that he’s killed. He’s always denied it.
“It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody, so you know you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty at least in our country he has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”
Putin and Trump shared their first phone call last week, with the Kremlin describing the talk as “positive,” and the United States calling it a “significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair.”
Right before leaving office, former President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats, who were suspected of spying, from the U.S. while imposing sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies. Officials have alleged that Russia carried out cyberattacks on political groups in an attempt to sway November’s election.
But Putin didn’t expel American officials in response because it would be tantamount to creating “problems for American diplomats,” and instead invited their children to visit Moscow.