Fake Trump interview in Serbian weekly leads to US media outrage

Red Cross office in Pristina, in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo, destroyed by NATO bombing on March 28, 1999 © Goran Tomasevic
A purported interview with Donald Trump published in a Serbian weekly had Democrats accusing the Republican nominee of being a Russian agent and supporting war crimes and genocide. However, Trump’s campaign said the interview never happened.

On Thursday, the Belgrade weekly Nedeljnik published what it said was an interview with Trump, under the headline “I apologize to Serbia.” The five-question interview was supposedly answered via email, through Trump’s campaign director in Indiana, the paper told US media.

“The bombing of Serbs, who were our allies in both world wars, was a big mistake,” the weekly quotes Trump as saying. “Serbians are very good people. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration caused them a lot of harm, but also throughout the Balkans, which they made a mess out of.”

The interview was quickly noticed by the US magazine Newsweek, and soon thereafter by other media outlets. Newsweek quoted London-based professor Eric Gordy, who described the remarks as “another sign of (Trump’s) alignment with Russia.”

Hillary Clinton’s campaign echoed Gordy in a statement shortly after noon on Thursday, accusing Trump of pushing “the talking points of his ally” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“While Hillary Clinton has stood up to Russia, Trump continues to pander to Putin,” said Clinton’s foreign policy adviser Laura Rosenberger.

Other media outlets took offense at Trump’s reported apology for the US intervention, noting that it stopped the “ethnic cleansing and genocide” of Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo. NATO aircraft bombed Bosnian Serbs in 1995, and in 1999 the alliance launched a 78-day war against Serbia and Montenegro over claims of “genocide” against the ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo.

“The intervention by the US and NATO allies … was aimed at stopping an ethnic cleansing campaign that Serbia was waging against Muslims and other minority groups in the former Yugoslavia,” wrote The Hill.

Former DNC chair and onetime Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean tweeted along the same lines, calling Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a “war criminal.”

Trump has “lost the support of women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, the disabled, Muslims, and pretty much every other demographic group other than angry white men,” wrote Kevin Drum, political blogger for the liberal magazine Mother Jones. “So who's left that might vote for him? How about Serbians?”

Marko Prelevic, one of the authors of the interview, told both Newsweek and BuzzFeed News that the questions were sent out by email and that the answers came back through Suzanne Jaworowski, head of the Trump-Pence campaign in Indiana. Contact with the campaign was established through Vladimir Rajcic, a Serbian-American actor, Prelevic said.

However, Jaworowski said the interview never happened.

“There was no Trump interview on Serbia,” she told Politico on Thursday afternoon. “I don’t know where that came from. I never facilitated any kind of interview with a Serbian reporter.”

“This was a hoax and we look forward to receiving a formal retraction and apology from all involved,”added Jason Miller, the campaign’s senior communications adviser.

By Thursday evening, Nedeljnik had pulled the interview from their website, and replaced it with a statement from the editors who accused the Trump campaign of disavowing the genuine interview because it didn’t have the desired effect. They allowed for the possibility that Rajcic deceived them, however, in which case the “fault is ours and ours alone.”

The magazine also posted a statement from Rajcic, who maintained that the interview was genuine and that he has proof he will “make public on CNN soon.”

The quote about the bombing that Nedeljnik attributed to Trump sounded nearly identical to a quote the Serbian press has been reporting for almost a year, supposedly from a Larry King interview on CNN but without ever citing a source.

The only documented instance of Trump mentioning the Kosovo War is in his October 1999 appearance on Larry King’s show, when he said, “I would have done it a little bit differently.”

Nedeljnik’s cover also advertised the special gift of The New York Times and teased an interview with US Ambassador to Serbia Kyle Scott, titled “Tabloids don’t care about truth, only about the message.”