President Donald Trump drew fire this week as he admitted, via Twitter, that he had discussed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections with none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Newsweek reports.
“We discussed Trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, Nuclear Arms Control and even the ‘Russian Hoax.’ Very productive talk!,” the president tweeted, leaving many to question why Trump would discuss the investigation with Putin, who very well could have been involved personally in Russian interference.
Among Trump’s detractors has been House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who suggested that the president’s behavior rises to the level of a threat to U.S. national security.
Schiff, on Twitter, quoted Trump’s own recounting of the conversation between the two leaders, adding his own commentary.
“The 2020 campaign is already in full swing and Trump just told Putin, the man behind the most serious cyber attack on our democracy ever, that he believes it was all a hoax,” he said. “Once again, he betrays our national security and for what? Nothing more than his own vanity and delusion.”
Following Trump’s tweets about the conversation with Putin, he took to the Oval Office to answer questions from reporters. At that point, the president further fanned the flames of concern about the appropriateness of the exchange with the Russian leader.
Trump, at one point, shared that Putin “sort of smiled” when discussing the investigation, describing Putin’s feelings that Mueller’s investigation had started out feeling very substantial, but ended up inconsequential.
When pressed about whether he demanded that Russia not interfere in future U.S. elections, Trump became defensive.
“Excuse me, I’m talking, I’m answering this question,” he said. “You are very rude… We didn’t discuss that.”
President Trump on discussing Mueller report with Putin: "He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse. But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever." pic.twitter.com/T6utrZ7yGb— The Hill (@thehill) May 4, 2019
Representative Kathleen Rice, a Democrat representing New York’s fourth district, criticized Trump for his response.
In a tweet, Rice described Trump’s unwillingness to push back on Putin with respect to Russian election interference as a “deliberate and strategic” act. She went on to say that Trump’s behavior, when it comes to Russian interference, has made it essentially impossible for Congress to engage in productive conversations on the matter.
The phone call with Putin comes on the heels of Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee interrogating Attorney General William Barr on how he handled the release of Mueller’s Russia report, specifically allegations that the attorney general mischaracterized the contents of the report in a brief summary he shared publicly prior to the release of the full redacted report.