World

Trump under fire for soft stance on Russia

Even over Super Bowl weekend, US President continues to court controversy

WASHINGTON US President Donald Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida for a weekend of relaxation and Super Bowl-watching, but as his first days in office have demonstrated, politics and Twitter are never far away.

The looming issue remains the worldwide furore over his Jan 27 order temporarily banning refugees and travellers from seven mainly Muslim countries.

After two legal setbacks - a federal judge's order suspending the bans and an appeals court upholding that order - Mr Trump lashed out at the judges involved.

After Judge James Robart of the federal district court in Seattle ordered the nationwide suspension of the travel ban on Friday, the Justice Department filed an emergency motion on Saturday before an appeals court, arguing that the suspension was causing "irreparable harm".

But that court upheld Judge Robart's ruling on Sunday, meaning the case is likely to end up before the Supreme Court.

The president then interrupted a nearly day-long break from Twitter, tweeting: "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!"

That tweet, coming a day after he blasted Mr Robart as a "so-called judge," drew sharp Democratic criticism as potential interference in the judicial branch of government.

Before his first Sunday tweet, Mr Trump had gone 20 hours without succumbing to Twitter's temptation.

But he quickly followed with a tweet saying he had instructed the Homeland Security Department to check incoming travellers "VERY CAREFULLY," adding that the courts were not helping.

The president also drew fire from Republicans and Democrats alike on Sunday after he defended a softer stance on Russia, playing down political assassinations.

Showing no signs of yielding to demands that he distance himself from President Vladimir Putin, he plunged himself into a fresh political firestorm.

"I do respect him. Well, I respect a lot of people, but that doesn't mean I'll get along with them," Mr Trump said in a pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox News's Bill O'Reilly.

When pressed over Mr Putin's alleged links to the extrajudicial killing of journalists and dissidents, Mr Trump said: "We've got a lot of killers. You think our country's so innocent?"

Mr Trump's fellow Republicans were quick to criticise the remarks.

Senate leader Mitch McConnell, speaking on CNN, said of Mr Putin: "He is a former KGB agent (and) a thug." 
- REUTERS

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