Donald Trump defends Putin's record on killing journalists

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen in a combination photo.

Reuters

Days after Vladimir Putin praised Donald Trump as an "outstanding and talented person," the GOP 2016 candidate is launching a vociferous defense on behalf of the Russian president, backing Putin against allegations that he has ordered the murder of journalists in Russia.

"It would be a terrible thing if it were true, but I have never seen any information or any proof that he killed reporters," Trump told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an interview that aired Sunday. "You're just saying, he killed reporters. You and other people tell me he killed reporters. I don't know that he killed reporters. I haven't seen it. If he did, I think it's despicable. I think it would be horrible. But you're making these accusations and I don't -- I don't see any proof."

Trump, who has said before that he believes he'd get along well with the Russian leader, added that he's "read those allegations." But, he added, Putin "totally denies that he kills reporters."

On Thursday, Putin told reporters that Trump was the "absolute front-runner" in the U.S. presidential race and that he "certainly welcomes" the billionaire's call for better relations between the two countries.

Trump has since basked in the compliments -- to the ire of his rival conservatives.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio slammed Trump on CBS' "Face the Nation," saying that he shouldn't be honored by the Russian leader.

Putin, Rubio said, has "jailed and murdered journalists, political opponents. He bombed an apartment building as a pretext to attack the Chechens. He is responsible for the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, because he provided the antiaircraft weaponry that was used for that."

But Trump believes it's a positive development.

"If Putin respects me and if Putin wants to call me brilliant and other things that he said which were, frankly, very nice, I'll accept that and I'll accept that on behalf of our country," Trump said on ABC News. "Because if we get along well with Russia, that's a positive thing."

Trump made the media rounds Sunday, also appearing on Fox News and repeating that "it's really good if we get along with other countries knowing that we want to do well against them."

And on a radio broadcast Sunday, Trump also seemed to equate the charges against Putin to the lives lost in wars by the United States.

"We have such incompetent leadership that we're going all over the place," Trump said during a WABC interview. "We're killing people. They're killing people."

"We're not killing journalists," Trump clarified. "But we're certainly at a lot of different wars with a lot of different people, and maybe with good diplomacy and, you know, better leadership, things could work out a lot better than they're working out right now, you never know."