US President Barack Obama has compared his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein, implying that Putin rigs popularity polls in his own favor. Obama made the comments on Tuesday, as he blasted Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for an interview with the Russian television network RT, where the New York businessman gave kudos to Putin for his popularity.
“When the interviewer asks him [Trump], ‘why do you support this guy [Putin]?’ He says, ‘He is a strong guy. Look, he’s got an 82 percent poll rating.’ Well, yes, Saddam Hussein had a 90 percent poll rating. If you control the media and you’ve taken away everybody’s civil liberties, and you jail dissidents; that’s what happens,” Obama said in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during a campaign event for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“He loves this guy,” Obama further said of Trump’s alleged relationship with Putin, adding that the real estate mogul was “out there praising a guy, saying he’s a strong leader, because he invades smaller countries, jails his opponents, controls the press, and drives his economy into a recession.” Trump has long been accused by his opponents of, as New York Timesputs it, having a “crush” on Putin.
In mid-August, Clinton’s campaign insisted that Trump should answer questions about his pro-Russian policy stances. The former secretary of state’s campaign staff have gone as far as connecting Trump to alleged Russian hackers that, according to American intelligence agencies, have targeted key Democratic Party organizations over the past few months.
Trump’s response to the allegations, where he “sarcastically” invited Russia to hack Clinton’s email, only stirred more controversy and prompted a warning from Clinton’s team over what they called growing evidence of a foreign power “interfering in an American election.”
American officials soon echoed the anti-Russian rhetoric, expressing concerns about Russia’s ill-intended plans to disrupt the November presidential election. Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper said last week that Russians hack American computer networks “all the time.”
Russian officials have repeatedly rejected the hacking claims. Trump has denied any connections with Moscow, but claims Putin will respect him if he beats Clinton in the race for the White House.