Analysis

Round 2 and Trump’s denial: ‘I don’t know Putin’

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Republican Donald Trump admitted he has avoided paying taxes for many years, and he dismissed his horrific language about women caught on tape as simply “locker-room talk” during a more controlled performance in the second presidential debate Sunday night.

And when it came to the critical national-security issues that we are watching closely at PutinTrump.org, Trump developed a sudden case of amnesia about his oft-repeated praise for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, as well as his own business dealings with Russian oligarchs. He also flatly denied the U.S. intelligence community’s charges that Russia is attempting to interfere with the U.S. election by cyber hacking – and even contradicted his running mate on the best approach to Russia in dealing with ISIS.

Here’s what Trump said in Sunday night’s debate and what the record actually shows in response:

Statement 1: “I don’t know Putin.”

Politifact called Trump on this back in August when he first started to distance himself from the Russian strongman. Here are some direct quotes from Trump over the past three years:

“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today.” (MSNBC, 2013)

“…I own Miss Universe, I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success.” (National Press Club address, 2014)

And of course Trump has repeated time and again that he believes Putin is a “stronger leader” than President Obama.

Statement 2: “I think it would be great if we got along with Putin so we could fight ISIS together.”

Last week, during the vice presidential debate, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence was singing a completely different tune on the threat Putin represents: “And the small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – just withdraws from talks about a cease-fire while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria.”

On Sunday night, when moderator Martha Raddatz reminded Trump of Pence’s strong words on Russia, Trump said: “He (Pence) and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.”

Statement 3: “ … she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.

In July, Trump explicitly invited Russia to hack into American systems to find emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s servers – and he hit the missing-email issue hard again in Sunday’s debate. His dare came amid questions around the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Also in July, Trump refused to call on Putin to stay out of the election, “I’m not going to tell Putin what to do. Why would I tell him what to do? Why do I have to get tough on Putin? I don’t know anything other than that he doesn’t respect our country.”

On Friday, the U.S. government officially accused Russia of hacking the campaign in order to influence the election. “The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” said a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence. “. . . These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” The DNC had previously reported that its investigation had pointed to Russian hackers.

And hacks into two state election systems have been tracked to servers in Siberia, confirmed by the owner of the servers.

Statement 4: “I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there.

As pointed out last month on PutinTrump.org, there is an abundance of evidence of Trump’s business dealings with Russian investors and oligarchs. Slate has reported extensively about Trump’s relationships with Russian investors going back two decades. And even Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., has bragged: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

A recent ABC News investigation suggests Trump’s business ties with Russia are vast, potentially in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Up next: As the campaign intensifies over its final four weeks, look for Trump to continue to be at odds with his running mate about the Russian threat, or try to forget or fudge his positions on Russia and his relationship with Putin. The final face-off between the presidential candidates will be Wednesday, Oct. 19, in Las Vegas.

Sources: The Washington Post, Politifact, CNN, The New York Times, Slate, ABC News, The Independent