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Jake Tapper Battles Marco Rubio on Trump’s Russia Flubs: ‘Don’t You Think You’re Being Remarkably Forgiving’

As the White House offers to roll out the welcome mat for President Vladimir Putin, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) admitted President Donald Trump‘s friendly behavior toward the Russian leader is troubling. But it took a good deal of grilling by CNN’s Jake Tapper to get there.

“[Putin] is not interested in better relations with the United States,” Rubio told Tapper in a State of the Union interview Sunday. ” I think walked away from that a long time ago. He’s interested in gaining advantage at our expense and to his benefit. As as long as we go in with a very clear understanding, we can engage him all we want but not under any illusions.”

Tapper said that Rubio has “suggested” that Putin has been responsible for war crimes. Rubio corrected “suggested” saying “no I know he has been, I know he has.”

“This is the guy that shot down that Malaysian airliner, this is the guy that invaded Ukraine, this is the guy that took Crimea, this is a guy that murders his political opponents,” Rubio said. “This is who we’re dealing with, and this is the guy that bombs aide convoys in Syria and helps the Syrian regime gas people by covering for them at the United Nations.”

Despite being disturbed by Putin’s thuggish and authoritarian rule, Rubio said Trump’s engagement with the leader was simply “one of those tough situations” mandated by “geopolitical reality.”

But he didn’t raise much criticism of Trump’s behavior toward Putin during the Helsinki, Finland press conference. Pushed by Tapper, he only went as far as admitting it wasn’t “one of the best moments in the administration,” excusing it with Trump’s lack of political know how.

“Because he’s not a political creature, he doesn’t realize that some of these things he does, how it would be portrayed by our allies or by others,” the senator said, adding that the summit had some supporters. “Let me say this, our allies in Europe wanted him to meet with Putin. I’m not sure they wanted him to potentially say some of the things he said, but they wanted him to meet with him.”

“But I don’t have any doubt that President Trump is aware of the things Vladimir Putin has done,” said Rubio. “I’m not sure his rhetoric reflects that but the policies do.”

However, Tapper suggested that was a “remarkably forgiving” stance, arguing that Rubio would be highly critical of democrat who said the same things.

“Ultimately, I look at the policies, and that’s what I’m trying to influence,” Rubio replied, saying that “even though rhetoric matters, policy matters more.”

On the White House’s decision to invite Putin for a fall visit, Rubio said he had no issue with a potential meeting and interpreted the location as a “home turf” advantage after the Helsinki summit.

Watch the clip above via CNN.

[Image via screengrab]

Follow Amy Russo on Twitter: @amymrusso

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