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Story highlights

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have praised Marine Le Pen, the pro-Putin French presidential candidate

Dean Obeidallah: Despite recent drama between Trump and Vladimir Putin, they and Le Pen are natural allies

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @deanofcomedy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN) —  

On one hand, Donald Trump’s praise of France’s far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who appears to have received enough votes in Sunday’s election to advance to the May 7 runoff, is not surprising. Le Pen, like Trump, ran a campaign that was anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and traded on white supremacist themes. (It’s no coincidence that former Klan leader David Duke has publicly praised both Le Pen and Trump.)

On the other hand, you would think Trump would be hesitant to publicly praise a candidate like Le Pen, an avid supporter of Vladimir Putin, particularly given that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said just two weeks ago that US-Russian relations had reached an all time low.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

And while the last few weeks have posed challenges to the Trump-Putin alliance, they are likely not reflective of the larger scale support the two leaders have for each other. Consider this: Throughout the campaign, Trump heaped praise on Putin, even defending Putin against allegations that he had journalists killed. And shortly after he was elected, Trump continued to publicly defend Putin, most notably during an interview with his friend Bill O’Reilly.

To some, myself included, the Trump-Putin feud is political theater to create the illusion of a rift after Russia’s intelligence agencies helped Trump win the election, an allegation supported by the CIA.

Which is why Trump supporting a pro-Putin candidate in France may actually make complete sense.

Now to be clear, Trump has not formally endorsed Le Pen. But just a few days before France’s presidential election took place, Trump said Le Pen is “the strongest on what’s been going on in France,” then adding she is “the strongest on borders.”

And, on April 21, after a terror attack in Paris left one police officer dead, Trump’s tweeted: “Another terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!” Given his recent praise of Le Pen, many consider this tweet a subtle endorsement of the far-right candidate, who has vowed to be tough on terrorism.

Le Pen is more than a little smitten with Trump. She has publicly praised Trump and met with some of his top surrogates, such as GOP far right Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. Le Pen even declared she would’ve voted for Trump if given the chance.

And while she supports Trump, there is little doubt she also holds Putin – and Russian banks – in the highest regard.

Le Pen made international headlines when she met with Putin in Moscow just a few weeks ago, the only one of the 11 French presidential candidates to do so.

Le Pen has also advocated views that help Russia at Europe’s expense. She has vowed to pull France out of NATO, the military alliance created to be a check to Russia’s military might. Le Pen also called for an end to the sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia for its annexation of Crimea, dubbing the sanctions “unfair and silly.”

And Le Pen’s ties to Russia go beyond rhetoric and photo ops. Le Pen’s political party has been supported in part by Russian banks. Why didn’t she seek funds from French banks first? Well, French banks refused to lend money, given her political party’s “historic links to white supremacy and anti-Semitism.” Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had been convicted under French law for inciting hatred against Jews and for despicably denying the Holocaust. (This alone should have been reason enough for Trump to refuse to praise Le Pen.)

In 2014, Le Pen’s father secured about €2 million in campaign financing with the help of a Russian oligarch for the elections that year. And then Le Pen herself obtained a €9 million loan a few months later from the Russian Bank, First Czech Russian Bank, to fund her campaign.

And now it appears that Russian intelligence agencies are trying to influence the French election the same way they are alleged to have done in the US election. As Republican Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently stated, “I think it’s safe by everybody’s judgment that the Russians are actively involved in the French elections.”

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Despite the obvious parallels between the US and French elections, it’s unlikely Trump will criticize Le Pen anytime soon – and especially now that she has emerged as one of the two potential future presidents of her country.

After all, as Le Pen herself said, “A new world has emerged in these past years. It’s the world of Vladimir Putin, it’s the world of Donald Trump in the United States … and I think that probably I am the one who shares with these great nations a vision of cooperation and not a vision of submission.”