President Donald Trump said at a press briefing Friday that while “there’s nobody been tougher on Russia that I have,” he wants to wait until he sees proof that Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was poisoned and so declined to criticize the Kremlin over what German authorities have said explicitly was a poisoning using a military-grade nerve agent.
“I don’t know exactly what happened. I think it’s—it’s tragic. It’s terrible. It shouldn’t happen. We haven’t had any proof yet, but I will take a look,” Trump told reporters when asked about what message he had for Russia in the wake of Navalny’s apparent poisoning and how the United States should respond.
Trump said he expects to receive evidence regarding the incident soon and that he would be “very angry” if it confirms that Navalny was poisoned.
“I would be very angry if that’s the case, and we’ll take a look at the—at the numbers and the documents, because we’re going to be sent a lot of documents over the next few days,” Trump said.
Navalny, a politician and corruption investigator, fell ill on a flight to Moscow on Aug. 20 and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk. He was later flown from Siberia to Germany for treatment and has been in an induced coma in a Berlin hospital.
German authorities said on Wednesday that tests showed that Navalny was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group. British authorities previously identified the Soviet-era Novichok as the poison used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in 2018.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday condemned what he called an “appalling assassination attempt” on Navalny and called on Moscow to answer questions about the poisoning to international investigators.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has rejected allegations that the Kremlin was involved in poisoning Navalny and accused Germany of not providing Moscow with any evidence about his condition. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sept. 3 that Russian investigators tested Navalny for poisonous substances when he was in a hospital in Siberia and didn’t find any.
Germany’s announcement that Novichok was the poison used on Navalny was met with support from Trump administration officials, with White House National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot writing in a tweet that “Alexei Navalny’s poisoning is completely reprehensible. Russia has used the chemical nerve agent Novichok in the past.”
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday said the U.S. is working with its allies to determine what happened to Navalny and would seek “to hold those in Russia accountable wherever the evidence leads and restrict funds for their malign activities.”
Trump, at Friday’s briefing, challenged members of the media for what he said was their selective focus on Russia at the expense of scrutinizing China.
“I don’t mind you mentioning Russia, but I think probably China, at this point, is a nation that you should be talking about much more so than Russia because the things that China is doing are far worse,” Trump said.
The president referred to the outbreak of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, saying that by “not keeping that within the confines of China,” China’s communist authorities have put other countries in danger.