Donald Trump Praises 'Very Smart' Putin During Mar-a-Lago Fundraiser

Video has emerged of Donald Trump again praising Vladimir Putin—just as the Russian president was launching his invasion of Ukraine.

The clip, obtained by the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, shows Trump calling Putin "very smart" for the steps he had taken in the days before the large-scale military attack on Russia's neighbor. The footage was filmed during a fundraiser at the former president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which took place on Wednesday evening.

At the event, Trump defended his previous praise of Putin for recognizing two self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine and sending Russian troops to the regions under the guise of "peacekeeping operations."

Speaking to The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show on Tuesday, Trump described the pretext that Moscow was using for an invasion as "genius" and "very savvy."

At the Mar-a-Lago event, Trump mentioned the criticism he had received for those remarks, saying: "'Oh, Trump said Putin's smart.' I mean, he's taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I'd say that's pretty smart.

"He's taking over a country, really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people and just walking right in."

The former president also boasted that he knows Putin "very well…almost as well as anybody in this room."

Russia launched its offensive on Kyiv at about 5am local time on Thursday—which would have been 10pm on Wednesday at Trump's Palm Beach resort. Hundreds of civilian deaths have already been reported in Ukraine.

Sharing the American Bridge clip, Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman for Virginia's 5th district, tweeted: "Every elected Republican should be asked tomorrow if they condemn Trump's defense of Putin, and every reporter should make sure they have to give a real answer."

Matthew McDermott, a Democratic pollster and vice president at Whitman Insight Strategies, posted: "Reporters are live on CNN reporting from Kyiv over the sound of blasts while the leader of the Republican Party is, at this very moment, praising Vladimir Putin."

During the interview with Travis and Sexton, the former president said: "I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, 'This is genius.' Putin declares a big portion of Ukraine… Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that's wonderful.

"I said, 'How smart is that?' And he's gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. We could use that on our southern border. That's the strongest peace force I've ever seen."

Trump added: "Here's a guy who's very savvy. I know him very well. Very, very well."

Olivia Troye, a homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence, was among those who condemned his remarks.

Troye tweeted: "Absolutely despicable that Trump, his loyal pundits & many Republicans remain an asset & mouthpiece for Russian propaganda—Even more abhorrent that a fmr U.S. President would praise Putin's tyrannical actions on Ukraine & suggest them as a strategy for use on our Southern Border."

When asked for his reaction, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: "I have no response. In fact, I have no words."

Early on Thursday, President Joe Biden said the "unprovoked and unjustified attack" on Ukraine would result in "catastrophic loss of life and human suffering."

"Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way," Biden added.

"The world will hold Russia accountable."

Newsweek has contacted Trump's office for comment.

trump praise putin
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28, 2019. Trump says he knows the Russian president "very well." Getty Images/Mikhail Svetlov