Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took to NBC's "Commander in Chief Forum" on Wednesday night to again deny he ever supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, defend assertions female service was partially responsible for an epidemic of sexual assaults in the U.S. military and praise Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader.
Asked by a veteran as to what Trump would do about the U.S. military's epidemic levels of sexual assault, Trump responded with an answer in which he suggested there needed to be military courts set up to deal with the problem — but also defended the view sexual assault was a natural consequence of a sex-integrated military.
Challenged by host Matt Lauer as to whether he stood by a 2013 tweet in which Trump blamed "geniuses" who "put men and women together," Trump said his tweet was "a correct tweet. There are many people that think it's absolutely correct."
Elsewhere during the forum, Trump repeated outright lies about his contemporary viewpoints on the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"I heard Hillary Clinton say I was not against the war in Iraq," Trump told Lauer. "I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from 2004. You can look at before that."
If true, the claim might bolster Trump's national security judgment credentials — but it's not. In 2002, Trump told radio host Howard Stern he supported the overthrow of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, BuzzFeed reported, with Trump saying he wished the "first time it was done correctly."
But during the forum, Trump had no shortage of post hoc views on how the war should have been waged, telling Lauer that previous administrations did not listen to the intelligence community and current military leadership was weak.
"It used to be, 'To the victor belongs the spoils,'" Trump said. "Now, there was no victor there, believe me. But I always said, take the oil."
Furthermore, Trump expressed praise for Putin's strong — human rights monitors say authoritarian — leadership in Russia, positing the former KGB operative turned world leader was doing quite well for himself. In fact, Trump said, he preferred Putin's politics to U.S. President Barack Obama's.
"The man has very strong control over a country," Trump told the audience. "Now it's a very different system and I don't happen to like the system, but certainly in that system, he's been a leader. Far more than our president has been a leader.
"I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin. I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia."
As Politico reported, earlier in the day in Philadelphia, Trump was striking a decisively more hawkish tone on the issue of what to do in Iraq and Syria than what his stance at the forum might imply, promising to order "my generals to present me with a plan within 30 days to defeat and destroy ISIS."