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Trump compares death of Putin critic Navalny to his legal troubles

Donald Trump and some of his allies continue to compare his legal problems to the plight of Alexei Navalny, while the former president has yet to condemn the Friday death of the imprisoned Russian dissident who was President Vladimir Putin’s strongest critic.

In the four days since Navalny’s death, the Republican presidential front-runner has commented on it only to blast the state of this country, including his court cases, saying in a social media post Monday that the “sudden death” of Navalny has “made me more and more aware of what is happening in” the United States.

Trump’s handling of the situation served as a reminder of the soft rhetoric he’s long employed toward Russia and drew bipartisan criticism as he prepares for an expected general-election rematch against President Biden. His defenders — including potential running mates — have sidestepped questions about his response and leaned into the comparison in some cases.

“Watch the Biden Administration speak out against Putin and his jailing of his leading political opponent while Democrats in four different jurisdictions try to turn President Trump into an American Navalny,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich said Friday on X, formerly Twitter. “The hypocrisy and corruption of the left is astonishing.”

In Washington, the fallout from Navalny’s death is not receding. The White House announced that it will unveil a “major sanctions package” aimed at Russia on Friday in response to the death, which happened at an Arctic penal colony where Navalny was serving a 19-year sentence.

Biden has blamed Putin for Navalny’s death and used it to redouble his push for more U.S. aid to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion.

Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center — a nonpartisan foreign policy think tank — said she was “not surprised at all” at how Trump has responded to Navalny’s death, including the comparisons to himself.

“I’m sure for him, this is a politically convenient message, but it just rings completely false,” Ashford said.

Trump has long fueled concerns that he is too cozy with Putin, but the latest episode is part of an especially stark chapter. Earlier this month, he alarmed U.S. allies anew after saying he would encourage Russia to invade a NATO country that was not spending enough on defense.

Those comments — as well as Trump’s handling of Navalny’s death — have given his last serious presidential primary rival, Nikki Haley, a new opening to criticize Trump and highlight her foreign policy experience as his onetime U.N. ambassador. Polls show Haley trailing Trump by wide margins ahead of the Saturday primary in South Carolina, her home state.

“The only comment [Trump is] going to make about Navalny is not hitting Putin for murdering him, not praising Navalny for fighting the corruption that was happening in Russia, but instead he’s going to compare himself to Navalny and the victim that he is in his court cases?” Haley said in a Fox News interview Tuesday. “He is so distracted, he is so focused on himself, and America can’t go through this.”

Trump’s comparisons come as he faces 91 counts tied to four criminal indictments during his White House comeback campaign. In a separate civil case in New York, a judge ordered him Friday to pay more than $350 million in penalties for using “blatantly false financial data” on financial statements.

Republicans who have been discussed as possible running mates for Trump have avoided criticizing him over his handling of Navalny’s death. In a Sunday interview on CNN — before Trump said anything about the death — Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) called Putin a “murderous dictator” but declined to say whether Trump should speak out.

“We need strong leadership coming from America that actually pushes back against Russia and other dictators,” Scott said. “Unfortunately, Joe Biden is not up for that charge and Donald Trump is.”

Another potential running mate, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), took a similar tack in a statement given to a local news outlet Monday. A spokesperson for the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference said Stefanik had “one of the toughest records” on Russia and looked forward to returning to the “peace through strength policies of President Trump.”

The renewed discussion about Trump’s attitude toward Russia is a lifeline for Republicans working against him in the primary contest.

Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina GOP chair who backs Haley, said Trump’s unwillingness to condemn Navalny’s death “certainly does not hurt our efforts” in the state.

“Everything from our military presence with bases and nuclear subs and everything we’ve grown up with here was in opposition to Russia,” Dawson said. “There isn’t any warm and fuzzy feelings in South Carolina for anyone who’s wrapping their arms around [Russia].”

Alex Conant, an unaffiliated Republican strategist, said global affairs are a vulnerability for Trump in the primary race, but he also acknowledged that the issue has done little to diminish the former president’s front-runner status.

“It didn’t cost him in 2016, and so far it hasn’t cost him in 2024,” Conant said. “He’s going to win the nomination despite his weak rhetoric on Russia, not because of it.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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