Trump on Russian TV channel: Johnson, Stein don't belong in presidential debates

“Just for the record,” Larry King told his audience as he introduced Donald Trump last night, “Donald and I go back thirty years, and I consider him a friend.” Trump might not feel terribly reciprocal this morning, not because of anything King said, but where his show broadcasts. Appearing on King’s “Politicking” on Russia Today’s US channel RT America, Trump attacked current US foreign policy and brushed off attempts by outside candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein to join the upcoming presidential debates:

Donald Trump said Thursday he hopes Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein stay out of the presidential debates.

“No,” he told host Larry King late Thursday during an interview on RT America’s “Politicking.” “I’d rather it be Hillary and myself. We’re the only two with a chance at winning.

“They seem to be going down, the other two,” Trump added of the third-party contenders. “They seem to be going down a little bit. We’ll see what happens.”

Trump starts off by claiming that media bias was his biggest shock in the race thus far, prompting a dry retort from King: “And that surprised you?” King also hit Trump hard on his secret plan for ISIS, reminding the Republican nominee that one of his predecessors made the same promise in 1968 for ending the war in Vietnam, and it turned out that Richard Nixon didn’t have any plan. Trump assures him that he has a plan but that he’s tired of giving critical information away to our enemies, such as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan by publishing withdrawal timetables.

It’s not a bad argument, but the venue undercuts that, and more. Russia Today and RT America are owned by Russia, considered Putin-friendly at best, and Kremlin propaganda outlets by many. The venue raised plenty of eyebrows in the media, especially given Trump’s attacks on current US foreign policy and his friendly remarks about Vladimir Putin’s leadership:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized U.S. foreign policy and the American political press corps Thursday during an interview on RT America, a state-owned Russian television network.

In a wide-ranging interview that aired Thursday evening, Trump spoke with journalist Larry King about the presidential race, American intervention in Iraq and the Middle East, and the potential intrusion by Russian hackers into Democratic Party databases. RT, which airs in several countries in English and Russian, is funded by the Russian government; though it characterizes itself as independent, the network has been regularly accused of pro-Kremlin bias.

The interview came as Trump faced sustained criticism for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he has regularly done on the campaign trail — to the discomfort of many members of his own party, who have distanced themselves from the comments.

Team Trump went into damage-control mode this morning. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that King is indeed a personal friend, and Trump didn’t realize King’s “podcast” would air on Russian-owned television:

“As you know, former CNN superstar Larry King has a podcast and Mr. Trump went on his podcast. Nobody said it was going to be on Russian TV,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Conway offered the same answer on CBS’ This Morning:

“He said he was doing it for his podcast, didn’t know it would be on Russian TV,” Conway added. “He was doing it as a favor to his friend Larry King. And it was — Larry King has a podcast.”

That’s patently false. Larry King has a regularly scheduled program on RT America that airs at 10:30 pm GMT. It’s not a “podcast,” unless CNN’s New Day can be described as a podcast. Even the most basic vetting for campaign communications should have discovered this, and noted the potential damage appearing on Russian-owned television might present. It’s incompetent at best, especially considering the grief that Trump’s getting from Republicans over his continued praise of Putin.

This is a mistake that rookie politicians might make in the first month of a primary fight. The fact that this took place less than nine weeks before the general election will have Republicans worried again about the competence of Trump’s team, and the damage it might do outside of the Trump campaign to the GOP.

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