Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said Friday that he appreciated Russian president Vladimir Putin's endorsement of him in spite of his aggression against other countries and reported violence against political foes, saying "at least he's a leader."
Putin praised Trump this week as "bright and talented," and Trump released a statement of gratitude about the former KGB agent. Upon calling into MSNBC's Morning Joe, Trump was asked again about the warm words.
"When people call you brilliant, it's always good, especially when the person heads up Russia," Trump said.
"Well, also it's a person who kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries," host Joe Scarborough said. "Obviously, that would be a concern, would it not?"
"He's running his country, and at least he's a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country," Trump said.
"Again, he kills journalists that don't agree with him," Scarborough said.
"Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so, you know," Trump said. "There's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. Lot of killing going on, a lot of stupidity, and that's the way it is. But you didn't ask me the question. You asked me a different question, so that's fine."
"I'm confused," Scarborough said. "You obviously condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?"
Humorously, co-host Mika Brzezinski nodded her head imploringly while Scarborough asked that question, as if hoping that Trump would not hedge on the seemingly obvious answer.
"Oh, sure," Trump said. "Absolutely."
In addition to his shady past in the KGB, Putin has ruled his country with an iron fist, with multiple Republican foes of Trump deriding Putin as a "gangster" and a "bully." Political dissidents and journalists unfriendly to the Kremlin have been murdered. Putin's aggression in Crimea and backing of pro-Russian separatists also played a key role in the downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight in 2014 that killed 298 people.
Scarborough asked Trump how he would improve the country's relationship with Russia if he became president. Trump, who routinely cites his own high polling as the GOP frontrunner during interviews and campaign rallies, was impressed with Putin's high polls in Russia.
"Well, I think it would be good," Trump said. "I've always felt fine about Putin. I think that he is a strong leader. He's a powerful leader … He's actually got popularity within his country. They respect him as a leader. Certainly over the last couple of years, they've respected him as a leader. I think he's up in the 80s, where Obama's in the 30s and low 40s."
Just last week, Trump tweeted he was "tuning out" Morning Joe after the program criticized him, but he was back on seven days later.
.@Morning_Joe just went off the rails. I will beat Hillary easily – she does not want to run against me. I am tuning them out, waste of time
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 11, 2015