ORLANDO, Fla. ― Former President Donald Trump on Saturday continued to claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have invaded Ukraine had Trump been in the White House ― an assertion that ignores how Trump spent four years advancing policies that matched Putin’s longtime goals.
“It would have been so easy for me to stop this travesty,” Trump said, while continuing to perpetuate his lie that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him. “As everyone understands, this horrific event would not have happened if there wasn’t a rigged election and I was president.”
Trump was speaking to a few thousand attendees at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, all of them packed into the expansive main ballroom at Orlando’s Rosen Shingle Creek hotel, just off the main tourist drag south of the city.
Earlier this week, Trump praised Putin as “savvy” and a “genius” for seizing an entire country and suffering only “two dollars’ worth of sanctions.”
Thirteen months after leaving office, Trump remains the most influential voice in the Republican Party, particularly among the sorts of activists drawn to events like CPAC. Hundreds of attendees wore “Make American Great Again” caps, “Trump 2024” T-shirts and “Trump Won” buttons. The biggest, busiest vendors in the exhibit hall were the ones selling Trump gear.
From the stage, the one person getting the most shout-outs and praise was the president who tried to overthrow the republic in his attempt to remain in power despite losing his election by millions of votes.
Saturday night, Trump continued his attacks on U.S. and NATO leaders, blaming President Joe Biden, a Democrat, for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. “They’re not so smart. They’re looking the opposite of smart,” Trump said. “Putin is playing Biden like a drum, and it’s not a pretty thing.”
Trump repeatedly praised Putin for at least a decade prior to running for president as he tried to build a condominium tower in Moscow. In a 2007 letter, he told Putin he was “a big fan.”
Trump continued to push his “Trump Tower Moscow” project even as he ran for president in 2015 and 2016, and publicly praised Putin as a better leader than then-President Barack Obama.
In 2016, Trump openly asked for Russia’s help as he ran against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He subsequently used material stolen by Russian spies to attack Clinton every day in the final stretch of the race, even though he knew it had been stolen by Russian spies.
Once in the White House, Trump repeatedly attacked NATO and the European Union ― actions that aligned with Putin’s long-term objectives of weakening or destroying both institutions. He falsely claimed that the military alliance created by the United States after World War II and the free-trade zone were somehow cheating Americans. He mused about withdrawing from NATO entirely, and reportedly intended to do so in a second term.
Trump also continued to praise Putin and defend him, even telling the world in 2018 that he believed Putin over his own intelligence agencies regarding Putin’s work to get Trump elected. A year later, he tried to have Russia readmitted to the G7 group of large democratic economies, from which it was expelled for invading and annexing Crimea in 2014. Trump said he understood Russia’s need to keep the Crimean Peninsula because it had built a base there for its “large and powerful submarines.”
Also in 2019, Trump tried to extort Volodymyr Zelenskyy, then the newly elected president of Ukraine, into smearing Biden, at the time the Democrat he most feared as a 2020 opponent, using $391 million in congressionally approved military aid as leverage. The aid was released only after a whistleblower complaint about it became public, and the episode was the basis of the first of Trump’s two impeachments.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol ― his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― killed five people, including a police officer. The attack also injured another 140 officers and led to four police suicides.
Trump is now under investigation by federal and state officials in multiple jurisdictions. New York state Attorney General Letitia James has been conducting a civil probe of his family business, while the district attorney in Manhattan has been running a criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, has impaneled a special grand jury to focus on Trump’s attempt to coerce state officials to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss of that state to Biden in 2020.
And the House Jan. 6 committee has been subpoenaing more and more former and current Trump aides to determine his precise role in that day’s events, while the Department of Justice has confirmed that it is investigating at least one element of Trump’s scheme to remain in power: the submission of fake Trump “electors” in states that Biden won.
At a Jan. 29 rally, Trump asked his followers to stage “the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere” if prosecutors come after him, “because our country and our elections are corrupt.”
Despite this, Trump continues to dominate his party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.