Trump Avoids Insulting Vladimir Putin for Fear of 'Some Degree of Revenge,' Fiona Hill Says

Allegations of improper ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin have dogged President Donald Trump's time in office.

Trump critics have pointed to his dismissal of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, his chummy joint appearances with Vladimir Putin, and controversial foreign policy decisions that seem to benefit the Kremlin as evidence of Trump's affinity for the Russian leader.

But according to Fiona Hill—the former White House national security adviser who testified at the impeachment hearings into Trump's Ukraine policy—the president's friendly approach to Putin is at least partially driven by fear of what the Russian leader might do if crossed.

Speaking on CBS News' 60 Minutes program broadcast Sunday, Hill said the president "understands that President Putin does not like to be insulted. Putin takes it very personally. He harbors a grudge. He doesn't forget. And he will find some way of getting some degree of revenge as a result of that."

This is a tactic Trump "has employed with other world leaders as well," Hill noted. The president has been criticized for trying to build personal relationships with strongman leaders and dictators, including Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Meanwhile, he has often maligned leaders of traditional U.S. allies and undermined America's multilateral commitments. Hill said Trump looks at American allies "as though they're business counterparts."

She explained, "He brought the same style that he would've applied in pretty hard-nosed business discussions. I think that that did and has, in many respects, done some damage to many of our key relationships."

Hill, who left her position in 2019, was the White House's top Russia adviser. She warned that Putin "has got all of our political class, every single one of us, including the media, exactly where he wants us." Americans are "feeling vulnerable, he's got us feeling on edge, and he's got us questioning the legitimacy of our own systems," she explained.

Russia has long sought to undermine democratic nations by meddling in elections, exploiting social divisions and backing divisive candidates. Lawmakers and intelligence officials have warned that Moscow is planning to repeat its 2016 efforts in the 2020 election, though Trump has dismissed any such suggestion.

But Hill warned that the Russians did not create the divisions they have been able to play on. "The Russians didn't invent partisan divides. The Russians haven't invented racism in the United States," she told CBS News. "But the Russians understand a lot of those divisions and they understand how to exploit them."

Fiona Hill, Russia, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin
Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Europe and Russia, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 21, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/Getty