Matt Lauer was widely criticized for not pressing Donald Trump during last week’s Commander-in-Chief Forum on NBC, but one person who thought the TODAY show host did well was Trump himself.
Speaking to Jimmy Fallon on Thursday’s episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Trump said Lauer did a “fantastic job” despite the criticism. The comments came during a larger discussion about the forthcoming presidential debate, which NBC News anchor Lester Holt will moderate.
“I look forward to the next debate,” Trump said. “Lester is the moderator. I think it’s very tough for Lester. Because frankly I thought Matt Lauer did a fantastic job, and they’re trying to game the system by saying Trump won the debate because Matt Lauer wasn’t as tough on Trump as he was on Hillary Clinton. That wasn’t it. He was very tough on me and he was tough on her. But they’re trying to make it so that Lester is going to come out and really be tough on me. And I think it’s unfair. They’re trying to game the system.”
Lauer was slammed for not pushing Trump hard enough, specifically on the candidate’s claim that he was against the Iraq War. Trump had actually professed support for invading Iraq during a 2002 interview with Howard Stern. “Yeah, I guess so,” Trump said when asked if he was for the war in that interview. “I wish the first time it was done correctly.” In a later interview with Esquire, conducted more than a year after the war began, Trump said he was against the conflict.
In addition to Lauer, Trump also discussed his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“I don’t know him,” Trump said. “I know nothing about him, really. I just think if we got along with Russia, it’s not a bad thing. We’re getting along with other countries. The Democrats are trying to say I like him so much. I don’t like him, I don’t dislike him, I don’t have any feelings one way or another. It’s not going to matter what he says about me. If he says good things or bad things about me, I’m going to make great deals for our country. I’m interested in our country and in the success of our country. You see what’s happening, just generally speaking, and we have a long way to go. They do try and pin me into this, and I’m saying to myself, I don’t even know him. All of a sudden, they’re making it like he’s my best friend. I don’t know him. What I want is what’s best for the country.”
Trump had previously said of Putin, “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” He also said Putin was more of a “leader” than President Barack Obama. “Now, it’s a very different system and I don’t happen to like that system. But certainly in that system he’s been a leader far more than our president has been a leader,” Trump said during the Commander-in-Chief Forum.