Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized US policy in Iraq again, but this time he aired his grievances on an unusual platform: a Russian government-funded television network.
Trump, who has often praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, made the comments in an interview with former CNN broadcaster Larry King, whose podcast was aired on Thursday night on the RT network, a 24-hour news channel that broadcasts in both English and Russian.
Critics of the network, which mostly targets audiences outside of Russia and also includes programming in Spanish, Hindi and Arabic, have described it as a propaganda arm of Putin’s government.
Traditionally, American presidential candidates do not bash their country before a foreign audience, even if they are fierce critics of the current administration while campaigning in the United States. Trump has said far worse about President Barack Obama in appearances on US broadcast networks.
The White House said it had no comment on Trump’s remarks.
Trump’s praise of Putin, which he repeated during a televised national security forum on Wednesday night, has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats and some Republicans.
Trump told King he does not think the Russians were intervening in U.S. elections, a concern expressed by some US officials and by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The New York businessman also said he did not think Russia’s government was behind the hack of Democratic National Committee email servers. Experts inside and outside the government have pointed to Russian-backed actors as the source of the hack, which has been used to leak information in an attempt to embarrass Democrats.
Trump criticized US policy in Iraq from the days of Republican President George W Bush, who ordered the American-led invasion in 2003 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States. Trump then attacked Obama and Clinton, the president’s first secretary of state, for their roles in the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
“It’s a war we shouldn’t have been in, number one,” Trump said in the interview. “And it’s a war that, when we got out, we got out the wrong way. That’s Obama.”
Clinton’s campaign has seized on criticism of Trump for lauding Putin, frequently pointing to the Republican’s praise of the Russian president as a disqualifying for the White House.
Trump’s interview surfaced as he and Clinton continue to clash over foreign policy in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election.
In the national security forum on Wednesday night, the two sought to portray themselves as most fit to be commander in chief, with Trump arguing that Putin is a better leader than Obama.
Clinton on Thursday said Trump’s comment was “not just unpatriotic and insulting to the people of our country, as well as to our commander in chief, it is scary.”
Trump and his running mate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, defended the comment. Pence called it “inarguable” that Putin is a stronger leader than the US president.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan - the top elected Republican official who has frequently broken with Trump - again took a sharply different view from that of his party’s candidate.
“Putin is an aggressor that does not share our interests. Vladimir Putin is violating the sovereignty of neighboring countries,” Ryan said at his weekly news conference.
Clinton was scheduled on Friday to meet with former senior national security officials in New York.
Clinton’s campaign also announced on Friday that an additional 15 retired U.S. generals and admirals were endorsing her, bringing the total number of endorsements by retired military leaders to 110.
On Tuesday, 88 retired generals and admirals endorsed Trump.
Trump’s and Clinton’s intensifying political combat over national security came as Clinton’s lead in opinion polls has slipped in recent days. The current average of polls from website RealClearPolitics puts her at 45.6 percent support, compared with Trump’s 42.8%.