President Donald Trump said he respects Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Super Bowl Sunday interview with Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly.
The news network released a preview of the interview, set to air at 4 p.m. on Fox during pregame coverage, in which O’Reilly asks Trump about his thoughts on Putin. O’Reilly calls Putin a “killer” during the questioning, which you can watch below:
“I do respect him, but I respect a lot of people,” Trump responded. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him.”
The American president said he would welcome any help from Russia in fighting ISIS, and said he would rather get along with Putin than be an enemy.
“But he’s a killer, though,” O’Reilly said to Trump. “Putin’s a killer.”
“There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers,” Trump responded. “What do you think — our country’s so innocent?”
O’Reilly also talked about immigration, and whether Trump should make public claims about topics like that without citing facts to back them up. He cited Trump’s unverified claim that 3 million undocumented immigrants illegally voted in the presidential election, all for Hillary Clinton.
“When you see… people who are not citizens and they are the registration rolls… it’s a really bad situation,” Trump said, according to Fox News.
It is not clear what killings O’Reilly was referring to during that portion of the interview, but Putin has been accused of assassinating or attempting to assassinate political opponents, activists dissidents and journalists, according to CBS News. He was personally implicated in the British investigation into the killing of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, CBS News reports.
Trump and Putin have been tied together since the election, with Trump and his campaign accused of having too close ties to the Russian president, including allegations of business conflicts and accusations that Trump campaign staffers colluded with the Russians. The U.S. intelligence community believes Russian actors interfered with the election by hacking emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and its operatives.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has downplayed his ties to Putin and Russia.
During Sunday talkshows, Trump’s allies, including Vice President Mike Pence and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, defended Trump’s most recent Putin comments.
“He respects Vladimir Putin because he believes that the leaders of countries deserve to get treated with respect. He wants to be treated with respect around the world, and he believes Vladimir Putin should be,” Christie told CBS News. “But it doesn’t mean that he agrees with him, it doesn’t mean that he won’t fight him and it doesn’t mean that he won’t stand up to him.”
“I simply don’t accept that there was any moral equivalency in the president’s comments,” Pence said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Look, President Trump throughout his life, his campaign, and in this administration has never hesitated to be critical of government policies by the United States in the past. But there was no moral equivalency.”
“What you heard there was a determination to attempt to deal with the world as it is, to start afresh with Putin, and to start afresh with Russia,” Pence added.
Pence was also asked whether America is morally superior to Russia, but did not give a yes or no answer.
“I believe that the ideals that America has stood for throughout our history represent the highest ideals of humankind,” the vice president said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was also grilled about Trump’s comments, but refused to “critique” the president.
Democratic opponents, meanwhile, took the interview comments as an opportunity to attack Trump. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for a probe into whether Putin and Russia are blackmailing the president.
“I want to know what the Russians have on Donald Trump,” the California Democrat told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I think we have to have an investigation by the FBI into his financial, personal and political connections to Russia, and we want to see his tax returns, so we can have truth in the relationship between Putin, whom he admires, and Donald Trump.”
Some Republicans, including Senator Ben Sasse, also took issue with the Putin comments.
“I don’t know what the president is trying to do with statements like he allegedly has on O’Reilly. Let’s be clear,” Sasse told ABC News. “Has the U.S. ever made any mistakes? Of course. Is the U.S. at all like Putin’s regime? Not at all.”
“There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world and the murderous thugs that are in Putin’s defense of his cronyism,” Sasse said “There’s no moral equivalency there.”
Senator Marco Rubio tweeted about the comments.
Trump has expressed similar thoughts in the past.
The first part of O’Reilly’s hourlong interview with Trump will air at 4 p.m. Eastern on Fox during Super Bowl pregame coverage, continuing the tradition established by President Barack Obama of the network airing the big game interviewing the president.
The second and third parts of the interview are set to air on Monday and Tuesday during “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News Channel at 8 p.m. Eastern.