Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as he and rival Hillary Clinton took pointed questions from military veterans.
Donald Trump told the forum Vladimir Putin “has been a leader far more than our president [Barack Obama] has been”.
It came on the same day the chief of the Pentagon accused Russia of sowing the seeds of global instability.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, defended her judgment despite her email scandal.
The White House candidates appeared back to back on stage in half-hour segments at the Intrepid Air and Sea Museum in New York on September 7.
Quizzed by NBC host Matt Lauer on his previous complimentary remarks about Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump responded: “He does have an 82% approval rating.”
“I think when he calls me brilliant I’ll take the compliment, ok?” added the Republican.
Donald Trump said Vladimir Putin had “great control over his country”.
He also predicted that if elected in November: “I think that I’ll be able to get along with him.”
Donald Trump recently drew sharp criticism when he urged Russia to dig up the emails that Hillary Clinton deleted from her email server.
It is not the first time Donald Trump has made admiring comments about the Russian leader.
Last December he said it was “a great honor” when Vladimir Putin called him “a talented person”.
Donald Trump’s latest remarks came hours after US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Russia “has clear ambition to erode the principled international order”.
In a speech at Oxford University, Ash Carter also appeared to allude to suspected Russian involvement in hacking of Democratic National Committee computers in the US.
On September 6, Donald Trump also courted controversy over s** abuse in the military.
He stood by a comment he made three years ago when he appeared to blame such assaults on the decision to allow women in the forces.
Hillary Clinton, who appeared first on stage by virtue of a coin toss, found herself once again on the defensive over her private email server.
A US naval flight officer told Hillary Clinton he would have been jailed if he had handled classified information as she had done.
Hillary Clinton replied: “I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously. Always have, always will.”
She vowed to defeat ISIS, though she emphasized: “We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again.”
Hillary Clinton also said her 2002 Senate vote in favor of the Iraq War was “a mistake”.
But she said it meant she was in “the best possible position” to ensure it never happened again.
Hillary Clinton also pointed out that Donald Trump had once supported the invasion.
However, in his comments Donald Trump said: “I was totally against the war in Iraq.”
Matt Lauer came in for intense criticism after the debate for not pressing Donald Trump on the statement.
Unusually for a US presidential candidate, Donald Trump made unflattering remarks about America’s military leaders.
He said the generals had been “reduced to rubble” during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s forum offered a preview of the questions they will face in their three forthcoming presidential debates.
The first debate will be at Hofstra University near New York on September 26.