Putting on his Hillary Clinton surrogate hat again, President Barack Obama criticized Republican nominee Donald Trump for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying Trump's warm words for the Russian strongman are "unprecedented in American politics."
Obama made the comments during a press conference on Oct. 18 in the White House's Rose Garden, where he was flanked by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who was on a state visit. His comments were prompted by a reporter's questions about Trump's ongoing declarations of support for Putin.
Obama also took a swipe at Trump for the Republican businessman's repeated assertions that the 2016 election has been "rigged" against him.
“You start whining before the game’s even over?” Obama said, reports The Associated Press. “Then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job.”
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Obama's retort came a day after Trump told conservative radio host Michael Savage that he's open to meeting with Putin before he's sworn in as president, if he wins the election. Trump said a relationship with Putin would be beneficial for both countries, ushering in a new era of cooperation between the U.S. and Russia.
"If I win on Nov. 8 ... I could see myself meeting with Putin and meeting with Russia prior to the start of the administration," Trump said. "I think it would be wonderful.”
As Time magazine notes, Putin has long disliked Clinton, and blames her for inciting protests against him when he announced his run for a third term as Russian president in 2011.
“She set the tone for certain actors inside the country; she gave the signal,” Putin said at the time, accusing Clinton's State Department of actively working to influence the Russian election. “They heard this signal and, with the support of the U.S. State Department, started actively doing their work.”
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Now Clinton believes Putin is getting his revenge by ordering the hacking attacks that have made open books of the private email accounts of several of her key staffers and surrogates. Clinton and her campaign have pushed the narrative that Russians are behind the hacks.
For the Clinton campaign, attacks on Trump and attacks on Putin go hand-in-hand, especially since Trump implored Russia to hack Clinton during a July press conference.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said at the time, while denying that he knows Putin personally and saying he has no personal or business interests in Russia.
Trump was referring to the more than 30,000 emails that Clinton's team did not hand over to the State Department -- and ultimately deleted -- after The New York Times first reported that she had been using private email servers to conduct official business when she served as secretary of state.
In a post on the site Medium, a Clinton spokesman again tied Trump to the email hacks.
“Donald Trump needs to condemn these illegal hacks and denounce Russian efforts to intervene in our election,” spokesman Glen Caplin wrote. “Why is Trump protecting Putin by lying about Russia’s role in these hacks? What did his campaign know and when did they know it? Why won’t he condemn this? With less than a month until Election Day, these are the questions we need answered -- and soon.”