Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has come to the defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin following the release of a British public inquiry that found the leader to likely be responsible for the murder of former Russian FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko (video below).
"Have they found [Putin] guilty?" Trump told FOX Business on Jan. 26. "I don't think they've found him guilty. They say a lot of things about me that are untrue, too.
“ ... If he did it, fine, but I don't know that he did it. ... In all fairness to Putin — and I'm not saying this because he says 'Trump is brilliant and leading everybody’ — the fact is that he hasn't been convicted of anything. Some people say he absolutely didn't do it.”
“Who knows who did it,” Trump added.
Litvinenko died three weeks after drinking tea laced with the poison polonium-210 at a London hotel in 2006, The Telegraph reports.
Putin and the FSB have always denied they were involved in Litvinenko’s death. The Russian government refuses to extradite the two main suspects in the case, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun.
"I have concluded that there is a strong probability that when Mr. Lugovoi poisoned Mr. Litvinenko, he did so under the direction of the FSB ... I have further concluded that the FSB operation to kill Mr. Litvinenko was probably approved by My. Patrushev, then head of the FSB, and also by President Putin,” Judge Robert Owen said in a report on Jan. 21.
“As we expected, there was no sensation," Lugovoi told Interfax news agency following the report’s release, The Telegraph notes. "The results of the investigation that were announced today once again confirm London's anti-Russian position and the blinkered view and unwillingness of the British to establish the true cause of Litvinenko's death."
Litvinenko fled Russia for the U.K. in 2000 and was a critic of the government, including Putin directly, whom he accused of having links to organized crime.
Owen said in his report that Litvinenko “was regarded as having betrayed the FSB” with his actions and that “there were powerful motives for organizations and individuals within the Russian state to take action against [him], including killing him.”
He also noted that Litvinenko “had repeatedly targeted President Putin” with “highly personal” public criticism.
Trump’s defense of Putin has occurred just one week before the Iowa caucuses, and he currently leads the GOP race with 36 percent of voters support, according to Real Clear Politics. His closest competition is Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, with 19 percent.