(Reuters) – Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who frequently touts his opposition to the Iraq war, appeared to support the idea in a newly unearthed 2002 interview, but said on Thursday he became an opponent by the time the invasion occurred.
In the interview before the war began, which was republished by BuzzFeed on Thursday, radio personality Howard Stern asked Trump if he supported invading Iraq. “Yeah I guess so,” Trump said, according to the audio clip.
During a town hall event in South Carolina on Thursday, Trump said the interview was not relevant because his views changed before the invasion. “By the time the war started, I was against it, and shortly after, I was really against it,” he said.
The billionaire businessman and former reality TV star, who leads the field seeking the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 election to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama, has cited his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as evidence of his foreign policy credentials.
But his criticism of former Republican President George W. Bush’s actions has aggravated some in his party, including in South Carolina, which holds its Republican primary on Saturday.
Trump’s comments on Thursday came after a participant at the CNN event said he was “stung” when the real estate mogul in a recent Republican debate accused Bush of lying about the reasons to go to war. He was referring to allegations, later proven false, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Trump walked back that criticism, saying the reasons for going to war were unclear. But he said the invasion was not justified and contributed to the destabilization of the Middle East.
“Going into Iraq, it may have been the worst decision anybody has made, any president has made, in the history of this country. That’s how bad it is,” Trump said.
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson in Washington and Emily Flitter in South Carolina; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump enters the South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall sponsored by CNN in Columbia, South Carolina, February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill