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Trump’s long, storied history of taking dictators and alleged abusers at their word

Donald Trump declares national emergency: will take billions from military to build border wall
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I know best.
  • Natasha Frost
By Natasha Frost


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Kim Jong-un knew nothing about the death of American student Otto Warmbier, who spent 17 months in detention in North Korea.

That, at least, is the story Kim told US President Donald Trump this week in Hanoi, Vietnam. Trump was perfectly happy to take it at face value. “I will take him at his word,” Trump told to reporters Thursday (Feb. 28.)

Similar protestations of innocence have frequently persuaded Trump of the innocence of other authoritarian leaders, and others accused of wrongdoing or terrible crimes. That holds even when there’s considerable evidence to the contrary.

Here’s a list of highly controversial figures Trump has chosen to stand by:

  • Corey Lewandowski, March 2016: Trump’s former campaign manager was charged with with misdemeanor battery after an altercation with reporter Michelle Fields, which she said left her bruised. At the time, Trump defended his campaign manager, telling reporters: “I think it’s a very very sad day in this country when a man could be destroyed over something like that.” (Lewandowski was eventually fired in June 2016, and accused of sexual assault in December 2017.
  • Roger Ailes, July 2016: The former head of Fox News, and a close friend of Trump, was accused by more than two dozen women of sexual harassment. Ailes resigned from Fox, but was quickly hired as an advisor to the Trump campaign, where he assisted with debate preparation. Trump publicly defended his old friend, calling him a”just a very, very good person,” and questioned the motives of his accusers.
  • Bill O’Reilly, April 2017: Following revelations that Fox News and O’Reilly had paid off five women who accused the former host of sexual harassment or verbal abuse, Trump told the New York Times that O’Reilly was a good person. “I think he shouldn’t have settled,” he said. “Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
  • Roy Moore, November 2017: The Republican US Senate candidate in Alabama faced opprobrium from leading members of his party after repeated allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers. But Trump was swayed by Moore’s protestations of innocence, telling reporters: “He totally denies it.”
  • Rob Porter, February 2018: The former White House staff secretary was accused of domestic abuse last February—the evidence included an incriminating photo of his ex-wife’s bruised face. He eventually resigned—but left the White House with a glowing reference from the president.“He has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him,” he said.
  • Vladimir Putin, August 2018: Many, including National Intelligence director Dan Coats, believe the Russian leader played a role in interfering in the 2016 general election. But Trump has maintained a steadfast belief in his innocence. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that president Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said at a meeting of the two leaders in Helsinki.
  • Jim Jordan, July 2018: The US representative from Ohio, a Republican, denied allegations that he was aware of, and deliberately overlooked, years of sexual abuse by a sports team physician when he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State University. At least eight former wrestlers came forward and said Jordan had been completely aware of what was going on. In response, Trump told reporters: “I believe him. Jim Jordan is one of the most outstanding people I’ve met since I’ve been in Washington. I believe him 100 percent. No question in my mind.”
  • Brett Kavanaugh, October 2018: The then-US Supreme Court nominee faced decades-old sexual misconduct allegations, which were eventually investigated by the FBI. Whether or not he was innocent was not decisively proven, but Trump apologized to him nonetheless at his swearing-in ceremony, saying: “On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure.” The confirmation process was based on “lies and deception,” he said, while “you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.”
  • Mohammed bin Salman, December 2018: The crown prince of Saudi Arabia was shown to be closely connected to the murder of journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally killed in Turkey earlier that year. Though a CIA assessment concluded that the de facto ruler had ordered Khashoggi’s murder, Trump refused to comment on the allegations. Instead, he told reporters: “He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” and said that he would “certainly” continue to stand by the prince.
  • Robert Kraft, February 2019: The New England Patriots owner was last week charged with soliciting prostitution, in an investigation into human-trafficking at a number of Florida spas. Trump, who has long maintained a friendly relationship with the businessman, expressed his surprise at the charges, but reiterated: ”He’s proclaimed his innocence, totally.”
  • Kim Jong-un, February 2019: The death of the American student Otto Warmbier, who suffered horrible injuries while held in detention in North Korea, has been connected to the North Korean dictator. But after their meeting in Hanoi, Trump told reporters that he believed Kim when he said he knew nothing about it. “Some really bad things happened to Otto—some really, really bad things. But [Kim] tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”

It’s in Trump’s interest to take claims of innocence at face value. While on the campaign trail, the president faced accusations of sexual misconduct from at least 18 women. Much like the men he has publicly defended, he denied the allegations, calling the women “horrible, horrible liars.”

Clarification: This story was updated to reflect that both Fox News and Bill O’Reilly had settled in the wake of allegations of abuse.

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