(Bloomberg) -- Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump’s repeated flattery of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his appearance on a Russian state-sponsored news outlet an “unseemly” sideshow in the campaign that shows the Republican nominee isn’t a serious candidate.
"Every day that goes by this just becomes more and more of a reality television show,” Clinton said in response to a question after meeting with a panel of national security experts Friday. “It’s not a serious presidential campaign. And it’s beyond one’s imagination to have a candidate for president praising a Russian autocrat like Vladimir Putin"
With national and battleground state polls show Trump closing on her, Clinton has seized on Trump’s repeated embrace of Putin. His most recent remarks, at a forum on national security Wednesday and then again in an interview broadcast Thursday by RT, have left some fellow Republicans trying to navigate potential political land mines.
The controversy over Putin has given Clinton an opportunity to highlight her foreign policy expertise as a former secretary of state and U.S. senator while also bashing Trump.
She was meeting in New York with a group of former national security officials, including Michael Chertoff, homeland security secretary under President George W. Bush, Michael Morell, who was Bush’s intelligence briefer and later served as acting CIA director under Obama, and retired General David Petraeus.
Afterward, Clinton said North Korea’s test early Friday of a nuclear bomb shows the multiple, overlapping threats the U.S. faces around the world and requires a “rethinking” of U.S. strategy in dealing with Kim Jong Un’s regime. It also ties in, she said, with the threat from Islamic State because terrorists must not get their hands on nuclear material.
Increasingly tight sanctions on North Korea haven’t been enough to curtail their nuclear program, Clinton said. China, isolated North Korea’s biggest trading partner, has not yet fully dealt with the threat North Korea poses to stability in the region, but the latest nuclear test provides an opening to use U.S. leverage to prod the government in Beijing to act, she said.
Asked if she would consider talks with North Korea along the lines of those that led to a nuclear deal with Iran, Clinton responded "yes," acknowledging that all the waves of sanctions against Pyongyang have been insufficient in reining in its nuclear ambitions. "I think there is a lot more we can do, and it will be on the top of my list in dealing with China on how we’re going to prevent what very well could be a serious conflict with North Korea," she said.
Trump’s campaign put out a statement from retired Major General Bert Mizusawa, who’s advising the candidate, blasting Clinton’s “failed tenure as secretary of state.”
“Clinton’s failed policies allowed threats to us and our allies to thrive around the world, including emboldening Iran and North Korea to accelerate their development of nuclear capabilities with impunity,” Mizusawa said in the statement.
Clinton mostly ignored Trump in her remarks following the meeting, referring only to him as her “opponent” and saying national security officials from both parties have been “chilled” by some of the statements he’s made. But as she was leaving she turned back to answer a question about Trump’s appearance broadcast on the Russian network RT.
“I can’t say anything surprises us anymore," she said, characterizing her reaction as “disappointed."
Trump sat for an interview with longtime U.S. radio and television host Larry King that was distributed by RT. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said on CNN Friday that Trump and his aides were unaware that it would be broadcast by RT.
“Mr. Trump recorded a short interview with Larry King for his podcast as a favor to Mr. King,” Conway said. “What Larry King does with the interview content is up to him. We have nothing to do with it.”
King’s program is “produced and owned entirely by Ora Media, LLC., which is solely responsible for their editorial direction,” Dana Steere, a representative of the firm, said in a statement. “RT America is one of several dozen companies who license these and other Ora programs for distribution around the world.”
Trump told King he’s skeptical about suspicions in the U.S. that the Kremlin is interfering in the U.S. election. “I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out, who knows?”
That followed his remarks Wednesday at a televised forum about military issues that he doesn’t like the system Putin presides over, “but certainly in that system he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Thursday that Putin is “an aggressor who does not share our interests.” But he declined to comment directly on Trump’s remarks, saying he wasn’t going to give “the tit-for-tat on what Donald said last night.”
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, suggested Thursday that Trump needs to be “careful” about his judgment on Russia. “I think one has to be careful to let flattery influence how you feel about someone,” he said on CNN.
Accusations that Trump has too friendly a view of Putin aren’t new. His campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, resigned last month amid mounting scrutiny of his political consultation for pro-Russian Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych.
The release of hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee roiled the race this summer and led to the ouster of the party chairwoman. The FBI has high confidence the Russian government hacked Democratic groups and the personal e-mails of political operatives, a person familiar with the findings said last month.
In an interview with Bloomberg News published last week, Putin said the Russian government didn’t hack the DNC but that the breach was a public service.