Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine and Donald Trump on Tuesday traded barbs over Russia, with Kaine accusing the Republican nominee of encouraging espionage and Trump saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin “laughs” at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.
Kaine lambasted Trump during a national security speech in North Carolina, criticizing his business dealings with Russia, the ties between some of his campaign advisers to the country and Trump’s suggestion that he hoped Russian hackers could find missing emails from when Clinton was secretary of state.
“He has openly encouraged Russia to hack his political opponents and commit espionage against his own country,” Kaine said.
Kaine, in his first major policy speech since being tapped as Clinton’s running mate, was drawing a contrast between how Trump would approach U.S. relations with Russia and Clinton’s track record as head of the U.S. State Department from 2009 to 2013, during Barack Obama’s first term as president.
As head of the State Department, Clinton oversaw “hard-nosed negotiations” with Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles and destroy Syrian chemical weapons, while still going “toe-to-toe” with Putin to protect America and NATO allies, Kaine said. “Trump seems to support Russian interests at the expense of American ones,” he added.
Kaine’s speech began less than an hour after Trump concluded a campaign stop in Virginia, where he scoffed at the idea that Clinton would hold any sway over Putin’s actions.
“Putin looks at Hillary Clinton and he laughs. Putin looks at Hillary Clinton and he smiles,” Trump said.
The dueling addresses occurred as the focus of the U.S. battle for the White House shifted to national security virtually two months before the Nov. 8 presidential election, with both Clinton and Trump set to participate in a televised forum on Wednesday hosted by a veteran’s group.
Trump followed up his Virginia event by meeting with the wives of U.S. military personnel stationed at nearby installations. The typically bombastic businessman listened attentively as the women, some of whom held babies on their laps, described their concerns about the quality of schools and finding jobs.
“So much of this we can take care of,” Trump told them.
Trump’s campaign also on Tuesday released a letter signed by 88 former U.S. military leaders who are supporting the New York businessman’s unorthodox candidacy.
Clinton’s campaign early on Tuesday attempted to pre-empt any move by Trump to distance himself from his past statements about veterans and foreign policy by organizing a news conference with military veterans before Trump’s event in Virginia and by releasing a new television advertisement featuring veterans and their families.
In the ad, reactions of veterans and their families are juxtaposed with footage of Trump saying that he knows more about the Islamic State militant group than U.S. military generals, criticizing U.S. Senator John McCain for being captured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and comparing what he called his own sacrifices as a businessman to those of parents of slain soldiers.
Kaine said in his speech that he did not need to “spin” Trump’s statements to win over U.S. voters because they could stand on their own.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Virginia Beach and Amanda Becker in Washington; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Tampa and Alana Wise and Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)