'Not a bad thing': Donald Trump defends congratulating Putin on election victory

Andrew Buncombe

Donald Trump has defended his decision to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his recent election victory, after it was revealed he ignored White House advice not to do so. He also claimed the last Republican president, George W Bush, did not have the “smarts” to develop a relationship with the Russian leader.

“I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also),” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

“The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Amid controversy over his conversation with Mr Putin, when he ignored a handwritten note from aides not to offer his congratulations and during which he failed to mention the nerve agent poisoning in Britain that the UK government has blamed on Moscow, Mr Trump claimed Russia could help “solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, Isis, Iran and even the coming arms race”.

He added: “Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the “smarts”. Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”

His comments came as the White House launched an internal investigation into who was responsible for leaking information about how the President had ignored advice from officials not to discuss Mr Putin’s election victory, which came just a few days after the US imposed new sanctions on Russia.

The Associated Press and other media outlets said aides had included guidance in Mr Trump's talking points for the call to Putin stating: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”.

On Wednesday, as the White House sought to discover who had leaked the information, it said passing briefing papers to the media would be a “fireable offence and likely illegal”.

The AP said document had been accessible only to a select group of aides and that both Mr Trump and his Chief-of-Staff, John Kelly, were very angry about what had transpired.

Mr Trump has told confidants be believes the leak was meant to embarrass and undermine him, the news agency said. It said he had demanded the leaker be identified and future leaks prevented.

He has suggested that it was done by “the deep state”, the phrase for career officials and the Washington establishment, whom Mr Trump and many of his supporters believe are tying to sabotage him.

Mr Trump has insisted maintaining a strong personal relationship with Mr Putin is the United States' best chance of improving ties with Russia and has signaled to allies that he trusts his own instincts in dealing with the Russian president.