In a U.S. Senate debate with Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine on Saturday, Republican nominee Corey Stewart told the audience that “we have a president who is standing up to the Russians,” eliciting a laugh from the crowd.
Stewart, a candidate known for his vocal defense of Confederate monuments and association with white supremacists, has made imitating and defending Trump a major part of his campaign. At the 90-minute debate, Stewart dismissed the Russian interference in the 2016 election as nothing too unusual. “They’ve been spying for years,” he said.
Instead, he called for greater cooperation with the Russians while also accusing European allies of mistreating the U.S. He called the Russian interference “alleged” and said that there had been no proven wrongdoing, calling the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt,” echoing the president’s own words. In reality, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia did meddle with the U.S. election, and there have already been many indictments from the investigation.
“We have a president who is standing up to the Russians,” he declared.
After a moment, Kaine laughed, and his supporters in the audience—many of whom were lawyers from the Virginia Bar Association, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch—joined in.
The comments followed a week in which Trump met privately with Putin and told reporters, “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia],” causing many even in his own party to condemn his decision to publicly side with Russia over his own intelligence agencies. (He would later walk back the comment, arguing he meant the opposite of what he said, but he has since contradicted himself again.)
Stewart stood in photos with the “pro-white” activist Jason Kessler before the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and afterward broke with other Republicans in defending the alt-right participants in the protest. Stewart supported disgraced former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of molesting underage girls years ago. And Stewart has praised outspoken white supremacist Paul Nehlen as a “personal hero.”