President Donald Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Thursday to discuss the crisis in North Korea — and thanked the Russian strongman for his effusive praise of Trump on Russian national TV.
Putin had applauded Trump and his handling of the US economy at an annual end-of-year press conference that was broadcast on Russian national television Thursday, saying, “Look at the markets, how they’ve risen. That shows investors’ confidence in the American economy. It shows they believe in what President Trump is doing in this area.”
Trump told reporters Friday that his call with Putin was “great” and that Putin had “said very nice things about what I’ve done for this country in terms of the economy.”
Coming amid growing pressure from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, Trump’s chummy call with Putin is sure to raise eyebrows.
The special counsel has already charged four people — two of whom pleaded guilty, including former National Security adviser Michael Flynn. Multiple reports suggest Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner could be the next target. Plus, it appears Mueller may be building a case that Trump himself may have obstructed justice.
Putin knew he could get Trump’s attention by complimenting him
In his press conference, Putin pointed to the booming US stock market as a sign that Trump was successfully managing the economy.
He also spoke with sympathy toward Trump, describing him as boxed in by political opposition and said that he hopes Trump still wants to improve relations with Russia despite the obstacles he’s faced.
Putin also dismissed the idea that there was collusion or inappropriate contact between Moscow and the Trump campaign as “spy hysteria.”
“This is all made up by people who oppose Trump to make his work look illegitimate,” Putin said.
Echoing Trump’s own language, Putin also claimed that there was a “deep state” hidden in the US government that sought to undermine US-Russian relations.
The call serves as a reminder that foreign leaders have learned that complimenting Trump is a surefire way to get his attention. Putin’s depiction of Trump during his press conference mirrored how Trump often describes himself — mistreated by political opposition and a hostile press, despite his strong performance as a leader. Trump was likely happy to hear Putin identify his predicament so sympathetically.
There is another factor: Trump simply admires authoritarian leaders and seems dazzled by the power they wield in their own societies. An anonymous Trump adviser recently told the Washington Post that the three world leaders Trump admires the most are Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, China’s Xi Jinping, and — you guessed it — Putin.