NEW YORK CITY: Russian President Vladimir Putin is “far more” of a leader than Barack Obama, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila), echoing previous praise for the Kremlin strongman. Putin is “very much of a leader,” Trump said in a televised interview, where he and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were separately grilled over their national security and military credentials. Trump has made no secret of his admiration for Putin, who last year praised the US businessman as “very outstanding.” Putin “has very strong control over a country,” Trump said. “It’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system. But certainly in that system he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.” Before Trump spoke, Clinton too was asked about her security smarts, but also faced questions on the sprawling email scandal that continues to overshadow her White House run. The interviewer, NBC’s Matt Lauer, asked why it wasn’t “disqualifying” for Clinton to have handled government emails on a private server while secretary of state. “It was a mistake to have a personal account. I would certainly not do it again. I make no excuses for it,” Clinton responded, stressing she had not improperly handled classified information. The forum, held aboard historic aircraft carrier the USS Intrepid, docked off New York City, did not put the candidates head-to-head, and Lauer asked them not to waste time insulting each other. For the most part they refrained, though Clinton said Trump had refused to take responsibility for his initial support for the Iraq War. Trump went on to attack Clinton over her emails. The first debate between the one-time friends turned bitter rivals is scheduled for September 26.