U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a press conference after the meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

Trump went to ‘extraordinary lengths’ to conceal Putin chat details


Ahead of his July 2018 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump insisted that the meeting be limited to a one-on-one discussion, with no other U.S. officials, even members of the Trump cabinet, participating. The White House never exactly explained why, but the assumption throughout the government was that the American leader would brief U.S. officials on the details of the meeting afterwards.

That didn’t happen. White House officials, military leaders, and even Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats all conceded in the days following the summit that they didn’t fully know what transpired behind closed doors.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. The Washington Post  reported over the weekend that the Republican has “gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations” with the Russian autocrat who attacked our elections in 2016 in order to put Trump in power.

[Trump has established a pattern] of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference. […]

Former U.S. officials said that Trump’s behavior is at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments.

In one instance, according to the Post’s reporting, Trump “took possession” of his own interpreter’s notes after a conversation with Putin.

The publication of the report represented a one-two punch of sorts: over the course of 24 hours, the New York Times reported on the FBI’s investigation into whether Trump was working on behalf of Russia against American interests, while the Washington Post reported that Trump hid details of his conversations with the Russian president.

On Saturday night, Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro asked whether the Republican would release information about his conversations with Putin. “Well, Jeannine I would,” Trump replied. “I don’t care…. I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.”

After complaining for a while about Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post, the president eventually assured the host and her audience that he and the Russian leader “talked about very positive things.”

Evidently, we’re supposed to take his word for it.

Some on Capitol Hill appear reluctant to do so. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet over the weekend that the House “will be holding hearings on the mysteries swirling around Trump’s bizarre relationship with Putin and his cronies, and how those dark dealings affect our national security.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) soon after broached the subject of subpoenaing the interpreter Trump used in Helsinki.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told CNN yesterday, “I have no firsthand knowledge of what the facts are here…. But you said earlier, this is not a traditional president. He has unorthodox means.”

All of which suggests the odds of the Senate holding hearings on the subject aren’t great.