WASHINGTON (AP) — The questions have been a recurring undercurrent throughout the presidential campaign: What is Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia? Why does he keep praising its president, Vladimir Putin? Is Russia meddling in the U.S. election? And is the FBI investigating any of this?
As the race enters its final stretch, a look at the situation:
Trump has raised eyebrows for repeatedly praising Putin’s leadership and advocating a closer working relationship with Russia despite its record of human rights abuses and recent military incursions in Ukraine and Syria.
“At least he’s a leader,” Trump told MSNBC of Putin last December, “unlike what we have in this country.”
Trump often bemoans the state of U.S.-Russia relations and argues the U.S. would be better off if the two countries put aside their differences and worked together to take on Islamic State militants. That’s despite Russia’s backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the U.S. opposes.
“I don’t know Putin but wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along actually with the other country?” Trump asked Sunday at a rally. “They want to get ISIS. We want to get ISIS. We’d put everything together, we knock the hell out of ISIS.”
In recent days Trump has also escalated his criticism of rival Hillary Clinton for being too tough on Putin.
“She speaks very badly of Putin, and I don’t think that’s smart,” Trump recently said at a rally in Ohio. “How do you speak so badly of someone?”
WHAT’S THE RELATIONSHIP?
Trump has been contradictory when describing his relationship with Putin. He told ABC in July that he had “no relationship with” with the Russian leader and had no recollection of ever meeting him. But several times in prior years, he’d stated the opposite.
“I do have a relationship with him,” Trump said in one 2013 interview in Moscow.
The ABC interview in which Trump said he’d “never met” Putin directly contradicted a 2015 interview Trump did with talk-radio host Michael Savage.
Asked point-blank by Savage whether he’d ever met Putin, Trump responded: “Yes. One time, yes. Long time ago.”