Records of at least five interactions between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia President Vladimir Putin over the past two years simply do not exist due to Trump’s efforts to conceal what the two leaders have said to each other during that time.
Reporting from the Washington Post on Saturday evening described the president taking great lengths in order to hide his conversations with his Russian counterpart.
In one of those instances, Trump physically removed the notes of the interpreter who was in the room with him, and told that individual not to discuss him doing so to any other officials in the administration, the Washington Post reported, citing both current and former anonymous U.S. officials.
The missing documented interactions between Putin and Trump, which are known to have occurred, are not even recorded in classified reports, making it difficult for anyone else besides Trump to know what was said between the two.
Trump has limited who has been in the room while speaking with Putin on other occasions as well. In his two-hour meeting in Helsinki, for example, Trump didn’t allow any cabinet officials or other aides to participate, save for the interpreter.
That presents a serious problem, as it’s a seemingly unprecedented action that this current president has undertaken that others before him have not.
NEW: POTUS has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Putin, including taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other admin officials https://t.co/6gWIlowzv1— Yashar Ali ???? (@yashar) January 12, 2019
“[It] is not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous,” said former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who served under former President Bill Clinton. “It handicaps the U.S. government — the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] — and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.”
The White House is disputing the reporting from the Washington Post, stating that the president’s interactions with Putin have been attempts to “improve the relationship with Russia,” and further blaming Trump’s predecessor for failing to do so sooner.
What Trump has said to Putin has been on the minds of lawmakers for some time now. Earlier this year, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, issued out a direct call for an interpreter who sat in those meetings to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in order to give members of that committee more information.
“That translator is an official of the U.S. government,” Shaheen said in July, according to reporting from Huffington Post. “It is imperative that the American people and this Congress know precisely what the president shared or promised the Kremlin on our behalf.”
Trump’s interactions with Putin and other Russian officials have been under the scope of federal agents in the past. Citing the suspicious way in which he had fired former FBI Director James Comey, that agency opened up an investigation into whether Trump had terminated their old boss on the direct orders of Putin himself, per previous reporting from the Inquisitr.
Days after he had fired Comey, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump explained that “this Russia thing” — meaning, the direction that the Russia investigation was taking, toward inquiring what role members of his campaign had in working with agents with close ties to the Kremlin — was on his mind when he made the decision to fire the FBI director.