Obama criticizes Trump's 'flattery' of Putin

President Obama on Tuesday criticized Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE’s “flattery” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling it an unprecedented development in American politics.

“Mr. Trump’s continued flattery of Mr. Putin and the degree to which he appears to model his policies and approach to politics on Mr. Putin’s is unprecedented in American politics,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in the White House Rose Garden.  

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The president also sought to tie Republican supporters of Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, to his embrace of Putin, saying that his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceMelania Trump, Karen Pence say they're ready to serve four more years in White House The Turkish rupture could cause a fissure in NATO Buttigieg responds to Pence: 'My problem is when' VP's 'religious beliefs are used as an excuse to harm' MORE, had previously taken a tougher line against the Russian leader before he was added to the ticket. 

“Mr. Trump rarely surprises me these days,” Obama said. “I’m much more surprised and troubled by the fact you have Republican officials who historically have been adamantly anti-Russian, and have in fact attacked me for engaging with them diplomatically, now in some cases are supporting or echoing his position." 

“It’s quite a reversal,” he added. “You’ll have to ask them how to explain it.” 

Obama and Democrats have sought to use Trump’s friendly overtures to Putin against him, painting him as a friend of one of the U.S.’s biggest geopolitical foes. 

Trump this week suggested he would meet with Putin before he was sworn in and criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcAuliffe says he won't run for president in 2020 Chuck Todd slams reports that DOJ briefed Trump on Mueller findings: 'This is actual collusion' Crowdfund campaign to aid historically black churches hit by fires raises over M MORE, for being too “tough” on the Russian leader. 

Obama defended his administration’s handling of Russia, saying he and his former secretary of State sought better relations with Moscow at the outset of his term. 

But the two countries’ differences over the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, and other international issues, have become too big to ignore. 

“Any characterization that we have somehow improperly challenged Russian aggression or have somehow tried to encroach on their legit interests is just wrong,” the president said.