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Donald Trump defended his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin during NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum, claiming he was only returning the favor.
NBC host Matt Lauer listed some of the things Trump and Putin have said about each other, and asked if Trump wants admiration from someone who is at odds with U.S. foreign policy and may be meddling with the election.
"You said, ‘I will tell you, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an A, our president is not doing so well. And when referring to a comment that Putin made about you, I think he called you a brilliant leader, you said, ‘It’s always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his country and beyond,’ " Lauer said. "But do you want to be complimented by that former KBG officer?"
"Well, I think when he calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, OK?" Trump said, "The fact is, look, it’s not going to get him anywhere. I’m a negotiator."
While Lauer and Trump both claimed that Putin called Trump "brilliant" during the forum, we are putting Trump’s statement on the Truth-O-Meter. It’s not the first time Trump has brought up the "really nice things" Putin has said about him.
"He called me a genius," Trump said of Putin at two campaign events in February, three times in April, in a May interview on CNN, at a June rally in California, twice in July, and at an August town hall in Ohio
Trump has been referring to comments Putin made in December 2015, when asked for his thoughts of the billionaire by an ABC reporter.
"He’s a very colorful person. Talented, without any doubt, but it’s not our affair to determine our worthiness — that’s up to the United States voters. But he is absolutely the leader in the presidential race," reads the captions on the ABC video.
The Russian president’s words got lost in translation in some corners of the American press. CNN, Buzzfeed, the Washington Examiner, the New York Post, The Hill all quoted Putin calling Trump "brilliant and talented."
Translations from British and Russian media outlets, meanwhile, were closer to the original ABC video. Reuters reported that Putin called Trump "very flamboyant, very talented." The BBC interpreted the comments as "very colorful, talented." And The Guardian amended a previous version of its article from "brilliant" to "very colorful."
RT, the television network funded by the Russian government, quoted Putin as saying "very flamboyant." And according to Sputnik, a news agency also controlled by the Kremlin, Putin said "very bright."
What accounts for these different interpretations?
The word Putin used was "яркий" or "yarkii," which means "bright" or "brilliant." But whereas "bright" and "brilliant" in English are synonyms for both "vivid" and "intelligent," the Russian word "yarkii" does not carry the second meaning.
Putin was basically using "yarkii" to mean "colorful" or "strong personality," said Harley Balzer, a Russia expert at Georgetown University, adding that he sees "nothing to support ‘brilliant’" in the intelligence sense from the comments Putin made in December.
Russian language experts told our friends at FactCheck.Org the same thing.
Putin, himself, denied the "brilliant" translation in a June interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
"You made some comments about the American Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump. You called him ‘brilliant,’ ‘outstanding,’ ‘talented,’ " Zakaria said. "These comments were reported around the world. I was wondering what in him led you to that judgment and do you still hold that judgment?"
"Why do you always change the meaning of what I said?" Putin responded through an interpreter. "I only said that he was a ‘bright person.’ Isn’t he bright? He is. I did not say anything else about him."
Trump said Putin "calls me brilliant."
This is an imprecise translation of Putin’s actual comments. The word he used was "yarkii," which means "bright" as in vivid or colorful, not intelligent or clever.
We rate Trump’s claim Mostly False.
NBC, Commander-in-Chief Forum, Sept. 7, 2016
Nexis and CQ searches
ABC, "Russian President Vladimir Putin Praises Donald Trump as 'Talented' and 'Very Colorful'," Dec. 17, 2015
FactCheck.Org, "Putin Did Not Call Trump a 'Genius' - FactCheck.org" May 6, 2015
Washington Post Fact Checker, "No, Putin did not call Donald Trump ‘a genius’" May 3, 2016
CNN, "On GPS: Putin on Trump," June 17, 2016
Email interview with Harley Balzer, professor at Georgetown University, Sept. 8, 2016
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