Donald Trump took office on January 20, 2017, and in the 442 days following his inauguration he has verbally attacked dozens of people he perceives as his enemies or opponents, in public statements or using his Twitter account. But there is one person that Trump had never publicly criticized — Russian President Vladimir Putin. Until now, the morning of Sunday, April 8.
What prompted Trump to finally make a public comment critical of Putin on Sunday? The provocation came from the deadly chemical gas attack reportedly carried out by the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad — an attack that took place on Saturday night and by midday on Sunday had inflicted a death toll of at least 70 with hundreds more injured in the Syrian city of Douma.
But there appears to have been more direct impetus for Trump to post his Twitter message in which he accused Putin of being “responsible” for the attack by backing Assad — the Fox News program Fox and Friends, a show that Trump is known to view on a regular basis and that often appears to provide the subjects for many of Trump’s tweets.
According to journalist Matthew Gertz of Media Matters, who tracks Trump’s tweets and monitors how often they echo subjects recently discussed on Fox News, Trump posted his first-ever tweet criticizing Putin a mere 27 minutes after Fox and Friends reported on the chemical attack in Syria, and also criticized Putin.
Gertz has compiled dozens of examples of Trump tweets that appear to be directly prompted by Fox News broadcasts, especially on the Fox and Friends show. For example, on October 18 of last year at 6:08 a.m., the Fox and Friends hosts accused Democrats in congress of being “obstructionist,” willing to vote only in favor of higher taxes.
Exactly 30 minutes later, Trump tweeted about the same thing. The 30-minute time difference could be accounted for by the fact that Trump is known to record his favorite Fox News programs and watch them via DVR.
In a more recent example noted by Gertz, on April 3, Fox and Friends touted a Rasmussen Reports poll that put Trump’s approval rating at 50 percent, four points higher than President Barack Obama’s rating at the same point in his term, according to Rasmussen. The Fox and Friends story ran at 6:08 a.m. Exactly one hour later, Trump posted a Tweet about the Rasmussen poll.
In an especially chilling example of Trump apparently live-tweeting Fox News, and claiming the conservative news network’s opinions as his own, on January 2 of this year Fox News reported at 7:37 a.m. that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had bragged about possessing a “nuclear button” on his desk. Just 12 minutes later, Trump posted a Tweet boasting of his own supposed “bigger” nuclear button, in a message that was widely interpreted as a veiled threat to launch a nuclear attack.
But Sunday’s tweet was notable for being the first message on Trump’s Twitter account that appeared to be even slightly critical of Putin. Trump has become notorious for using his Twitter account to insult and belittle his perceived enemies, who include a wide-ranging cast of characters ranging from Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep, actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Macy’s department store chain, to MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski and the cast of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton — among many others.
The tweet criticizing Putin over the Syria chemical gas attack also comes about a week after Trump made the surprise announcement that United States troops would pull out of Syria, “like, very soon,” a move that foreign policy experts said would directly benefit Russia, as well as Iran and Turkey, whose foreign policy interests are all tied to support for Assad in the Syrian civil war.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump also said that Russian airstrikes in Syria, which would be in support of tiger Assad regime, would be “okay with me.”