January 15, 2019
Talk about wiggle room. It would be hard to judge U.S. President Donald Trump on his initial meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2017, because he did not allow any English-speaking note-takers in the room and no formal transcript remains of the discussion, The Wall Street Journal reported on January 13.
What’s more, the Journal said, senior administration officials were never briefed on the tête-a-tête, according to informed sources.
Indeed, when Trump and Putin first met in Germany, it was the Russians who asked to have a note-taker present, according to sources. Telling aides that he wanted to reduce the chance for leaks, the president, in an unconventional move, allowed only then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to be present at the session; and instead had him take notes with the intention of relaying the details to relevant officials afterward, they said.
The president went to “extraordinary lengths” to keep his discussions with Putin from leaking, according to one person familiar with the planning, including preventing any details of the meeting from circulating widely within the government.
“It was very unusual,” the source said.
Unlike most prior administrations, the. Trump White House doesn’t keep records of every meeting between the president and a foreign leader, a former national security official told the Journal—adding that Trump made that call in an effort to build relationships with foreign counterparts. “He does not use traditional diplomatic techniques,” the official said.
“There aren’t records of his meetings like you’d expect,” said one foreign official, adding that the administration also cut back on phone call transcripts since his conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia leaked out early in his presidency.
However, Trump said claims that he took extraordinary measures to keep his discussions with Putin secret were ridiculous.“I had a conversation like every president does,” the president said in an interview Saturday on Fox News. “You sit with the president of various countries. I do it with all countries. I’m not keeping anything under wraps, I couldn’t care less.”
In response, House Democrats said they would explore whether President Trump sought to limit documentation of the meetings, in what could be one of their first actions to probe the president since they took control of the House this month.
“Every time Trump meets with Putin, the country is told nothing,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-New York) said in a statement. “We will be holding hearings on the mysteries swirling around Trump’s bizarre relationship with Putin.”
The flurry of media reports on the lack of note-taking came on the heels of a report by The New York Times that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into. Trump after he fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey.
“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written,” Trump said of The New York Times report in the Fox News interview.
Members of the Trump administration and Republicans dismissed the report. “The notion that President Trump is a threat to American national security is absolutely ludicrous,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Research contact: @vmsalama