Eric Trump apologizes for calling Putin ‘very smart’

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Eric Trump apologized Thursday for calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “very smart” and the Trump family’s relationship with Russia “an open question” during an interview with a Tennessee political group.

“I was asked a question about Vladimir Putin and I thought the wrong question. I shouldn’t have said it,” Trump said at an event Thursday with the Tennessee Student Leadership Alliance. “I apologize for it.”

During the interview, Trump was asked if he planned to meet with Putin, his Russian counterpart, on the sidelines of next month’s Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” he said. “I have no idea.”

But he added: “We weren’t smart enough to collude with Russia.”

Trump’s comments came after he and his brother, Donald Trump Jr., faced widespread criticism for meeting in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Eric Trump, who as president of the Trump Organization directs the family business, was in Tennessee meeting with students and politicians in preparation for the Republican National Convention. At that time, he spoke to the Tennessee Student Leadership Alliance, which promotes engagement with young people in state politics.

The message he sent in that radio interview is a notable pivot for a president whose job approval ratings are hovering around 40 percent. Trump’s relationship with Russia has been of deep concern to some Republicans ahead of the midterm elections, and there are signs the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election is resonating with U.S. voters in at least one Southern state.

Voters in a suburban Atlanta county narrowly favored a Democrat to become the next chairman of the Republican Party, citing in part their anger over investigations into Russian election interference.

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