Before running for president, Trump said Russia was “our biggest problem.”

Before Running for President, Trump Described Russia as “Our Biggest Problem”

Before Running for President, Trump Described Russia as “Our Biggest Problem”

The Slatest
Your News Companion
Jan. 16 2017 6:59 PM

Before Running for President, Trump Described Russia as “Our Biggest Problem”

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Donald Trump speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference on March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump has certainly changed his tune about Russia over the past three years. In his news conference last week, Trump showed he “continues to behave like a press secretary for Russia,” as Slate’s William Saletan put it. But Trump was sounding a very different tune in March of 2014, when he gave a number of interviews in which he said Moscow was the country’s biggest problem and expressed agreement with Mitt Romney who described Russia as the United States’ top “geopolitical foe,” according to a recent review of the president-elect’s past interviews carried out by CNN.  

“Well, Mitt was right, and he was also right when he mentioned in one of the debates about Russia, and he said, 'Russia's our biggest problem, and Russia is, you know, really something’,” Trump said on Fox and Friends on March 24, 2014. Trump noted that “everybody laughed” at Romney “including certain media” but “it turned out that he’s absolutely right.” He also warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “rebuilding the Russian empire.”

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That same month he spoke positively about the idea of sanctions against Russia. “We should definitely do sanctions and we have to show some strengths,” Trump said on NBC. “I mean, Putin has eaten Obama’s lunch, therefore our lunch, for a long period of time.”

Now though, he's not so sure about sanctions. Last week, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that while the current sanctions against Russia will stay put “at least for a period of time” he also said things could change if Moscow starts helping the United States with other priorities, such as fighting terrorism. “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody's doing some really great things?” Trump said. In an interview with The Times and Germany’s Bild tabloid, Trump seemed to suggest he could be open to lifting sanctions as part of a nuclear weapons reductions deal. This was the exchange:

Do you support European sanctions against Russia?
Well, I think you know — people have to get together and people have to do what they have to do in terms of being fair. OK? They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But you do have sanctions and Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.

This latest review of Trump’s interviews comes almost a week after CNN reported that top intelligence officials had shown Trump a two-page synopsis of a salacious dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent that alleges Moscow had compiled compromising information about the president-elect. Buzzfeed (and Slate) published copies of the memos. Trump has vehemently denied all the allegations, calling them "fake news."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.