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Trump campaign surrogates sidestep Navalny’s death in the lead-up to the South Carolina primary

In World
February 23, 2024

CHARLESTON — A wave of Donald Trump’s surrogates have been dispatched to South Carolina ahead of the state’s Republican primary on Saturday to highlight his policies and trash rival Nikki Haley, but there is one thing none will discuss: Alexei Navalny.

The death of the Russian opposition figure last week drew outrage among Western leaders who largely blame Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Joe Biden’s administration responded by pledging to impose “major sanctions” against Russia as a result of Navalny’s unexpected death.

Biden has directly said that “Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death.” On Thursday, Biden also met with Navalny’s wife, Yulia, and daughter, Dasha.

For his part, Trump has compared Navalny’s death in a prison colony to his own legal woes. But as his supporters crisscross South Carolina to stump for his presidential campaign, none are directly addressing Navalny’s death.

“I don’t know,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., during a campaign stop for Trump in Greenville, S.C., when asked if Putin was responsible for Navalny’s death.

When pressed by reporters she said, “I really could care less.”

“I am honestly not interested in that discussion,” she added, saying she only wanted to answer questions about the United States.

Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, said on Wednesday during a campaign stop in North Charleston that she does not “know enough to comment about that.”

Donald Trump has endorsed Lara Trump to be the co-chair of the Republican National Committee, a position she is likely to hold through the 2024 presidential election.

The former president himself on Monday took to Truth Social to liken himself to Navalny because he says he is the subject of unfair prosecution, specifically a New York judge on Friday ordering Trump, his sons and business associates to pay more than $350 million in damages and barred him from running businesses in New York for three years. The ruling came after a civil fraud trial focused on allegations Trump inflated the value of assets to defraud banks and financial institutions.

“The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. “It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction. Open Borders, Rigged Elections, and Grossly Unfair Courtroom Decisions are DESTROYING AMERICA. WE ARE A NATION IN DECLINE, A FAILING NATION! MAGA2024.”

Trump supporters campaigning for him in South Carolina have taken his cue, responding to questions about Navalny’s death by claiming Trump is unfairly being prosecuted.

“I think the one thing we can get out of the judgment in New York is that every business person who fears for the future of their business because of the absolute oppressive nature of the courts in New York, they are now…considering leaving the state,” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., after casting his early vote at a Charleston-area polling location.

“It is absolutely insane that you will see that kind of judgment coming down,” he added.

He walked away as reporters asked him for more specifics, including whether he thought Putin was responsible.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., took a similar approach, saying she hopes Trump appeals the New York ruling.

“I hope he appeals the fines New York wants to put on him,” she said when asked about Navalny at the same event where Lara Trump spoke. “There were no victims, the banks called him a whale and wanted to do more business with him, those are the things we should be looking at.”

Trump is up by significant margins over Haley, South Carolina’s former Republican governor, who has taken a different position on the Navalny death. She not only has blamed Putin, but has used the issue to attack Trump for wavering on the issue.

“Donald Trump could have condemned Vladimir Putin for being a murderous thug, Haley posted on X. “Trump could have praised Navalny’s courage. Instead, he stole a page from liberals’ playbook, denouncing America and comparing our country to Russia.”

Navalny’s death was announced Friday by Russia’s prison service. He had become internationally known for working to expose corruption in Putin’s government. He survived several poisoning attempts that were widely blamed on the Kremlin, which denied involvement.

Navalny, 47, returned to Russia in 2021 from Germany where he was being treated for a poisoning attempt involving novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. He was quickly arrested and later sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges of extremism that were generally seen as politically motivated.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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