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Recorded at his Mar-A-Lago, Florida, estate one day before Russia invaded Ukraine, former U.S. President Donald Trump sat down with the two hosts of a conservative radio show to discuss, among other topics, the conflict in Eastern Europe.
The 34-minute interview on The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show aired on Feb. 22, 2022. In it, Trump described Russian President Vladimir Putin's stated Ukraine strategy as “genius” and “savvy," a statement of praise noted by a number of reputable media outlets, including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and NPR.
While it is true that the former president used these adjectives in response to Putin's statements, the talk show hosts argued in a Twitter post the day following the interview that the interview was “taken totally out of context.”
“They [the mainstream media] pretend not to understand the English language so they can disingenuously bash #Trump,” they tweeted on Feb. 23. In another post, the duo wrote that “the fake news media is lying to cover for #Biden” linked to a reaction video.
To set the record straight, we also listened to the 34-minute show and found the full transcript from the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show's website (which has also been archived). Trump describes Putin's stated strategy as "genius” and “savvy” beginning at the 2:20 mark (emphasis added):
BUCK: Mr. President, in the last 24 hours we know Russia has said that they are recognizing two breakaway regions of Ukraine, and now this White House is stating that this is an “invasion.” That’s a strong word. What went wrong here? What has the current occupant of the Oval Office done that he could have done differently?
TRUMP: Well, what went wrong was a rigged election and what went wrong is a candidate that shouldn’t be there and a man that has no concept of what he’s doing. I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, “This is genius.” Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.
So, Putin is now saying, “It’s independent,” a large section of Ukraine. I said, “How smart is that?” And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well.
By the way, this never would have happened with us. Had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened. But here’s a guy that says, you know, “I’m gonna declare a big portion of Ukraine independent,” he used the word “independent,” “and we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace.” You gotta say that’s pretty savvy. And you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response. They didn’t have one for that. No, it’s very sad. Very sad.
Trump referring to Putin as “savvy” and “genius” does not necessarily mean that the 45th president condoned the invasion of Ukraine. In a subsequent interview with Fox News, he said that the invasion was “something that should never have happened,” reported Politico. (He also stated that the conflict would not have happened if he were still president.)
Within that context, it is true that on the eve of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Trump described Putin as “savvy” and a “genius.” As such, we have rated this claim, “Correct Attribution.”
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“Analysis | ‘Genius,’ ‘Savvy’: Trump Reacts to Putin’s Moves on Ukraine Exactly as You’d Expect.” Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/02/22/trump-reacts-putins-invasion-ukraine-exactly-youd-expect/. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.
“Full Interview: President Trump with C&B from Mar-a-Lago.” The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, 22 Feb. 2022, https://www.clayandbuck.com/president-trump-with-cb-from-mar-a-lago/.
The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, 22 Feb. 2022, https://www.clayandbuck.com/president-trump-with-cb-from-mar-a-lago/.
“‘How Smart Is That?’: Trump Praises ‘Savvy’ Putin, Says He Wants Russia’s ‘Peace Force’ on U.S. Southern Border.” Mediaite, 22 Feb. 2022, https://www.mediaite.com/radio/trump-praises-savvy-putin-says-he-wants-putins-peacekeeping-force-on-us-southern-border/.
“Https://Twitter.Com/Clayandbuck/Status/1496583336256487425.” Twitter, https://twitter.com/clayandbuck/status/1496583336256487425. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.
Twitter, https://twitter.com/clayandbuck/status/1496583336256487425. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.
“Https://Twitter.Com/Clayandbuck/Status/1496606179077808139.” Twitter, https://twitter.com/clayandbuck/status/1496606179077808139. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.
Milman, Oliver. “Trump Praises ‘Genius’ Putin for Moving Troops to Eastern Ukraine.” The Guardian, 23 Feb. 2022. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/feb/23/trump-putin-genius-russia-ukraine-crisis.
Ward, Myah. “Lawmakers of Both Parties Condemn Russia’s Invasion.” POLITICO, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/02/24/lawmakers-of-both-parties-condemn-russias-invasion-00011313. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.
Wise, Alana. “Trump Praises Putin as ‘savvy’ amid New Escalations on Russia-Ukraine Border.” NPR, 22 Feb. 2022. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2022/02/22/1082478790/trump-praises-putin-as-savvy-amid-new-escalations-on-russia-ukraine-border.