WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - President-elect Donald Trump late Friday publicly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for attacking Trump's former Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
In a striking statement that seems to further align Trump with Putin, the incoming U.S. president tweeted that he agreed with the Russian leader's assessment that Clinton and the Democratic Party generally have not shown "dignity" following widespread losses in the November election.
"So true!" Trump tweeted of Putin's comments, apparently referencing statements the Russian made at his year-end news conference: "Vladimir Putin said today about Hillary and Dems: 'In my opinion, it is humiliating. One must be able to lose with dignity.' So true!"
Trump's expressed admiration of Putin came only hours after he released to the media a warm letter the Russian sent him. The Friday night tweet sparked cries of alarm from former U.S. officials and other Trump critics on social media.
In Putin's letter, dated Dec. 15, the Russian leader wrote that he hopes he and Trump can act "in a constructive and pragmatic manner" following the Jan. 20 inauguration. Trump was pleased with the correspondence, saying in a statement Friday, "A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct."
Trump has long spoken admiringly of Putin and what he considers the Russian president's strong leadership qualities. Some of Trump's incoming advisers have past connections to Putin and the Russian government, including Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state nominee, and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the White House national security adviser designee.
Trump has so far rejected the conclusions of the CIA, FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the 2016 campaign in part to help Trump secure the White House. The agencies believe Russia is responsible for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails as well as the private emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Obama, tweeted Friday night that Trump's praise of Putin was "unprecedented": "So now the President-elect and an autocrat in the Kremlin team up to trash an American. Unprecedented. Will Republicans speak up? https://t.co/Vef1g5tiFK"
Evan McMullin, a Republican former CIA operative who ran unsuccessfully against Trump as an independent candidate, called Friday night for Republican leaders to condemn Trump's "alliance" with Putin: "Republican leaders must condemn @realDonaldTrump's alliance with Putin, a foreign adversary who is actively undermining our democracy. https://t.co/7q0OkzNF2T"