President Donald Trump hid details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, going so far on one occasion as to seize his interpreter’s notes to prevent them from reaching the public, according to a new report published Saturday.
Washington Post reporter Greg Miller outlines how Trump went through “extraordinary lengths” to conceal the contents of his conversations with the leader of one of America’s biggest adversaries. On at least one occasion, during a meeting with Russian officials and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Hamburg in 2017, Trump asked his linguist to not share details about what had transpired.
Even high-ranking officials within Trump’s own administration were unaware of specifics discussed between the two leaders, The Post reports. They only found out about possible subterfuge after an unnamed White House advisor and another unnamed senior State Department official specifically sought out the notes from Trump’s interpreter — but the records weren’t there:
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.
This isn’t the first time that Trump’s interpreter has been sucked into the drama of Trump’s dealings with the Russians — she is one of the few Americans, if not the only person other than Trump himself, who knows what was said at these meetings.
The new revelations come just a day after another damning story for the president, which included allegations that the FBI opened an inquiry into whether Trump was secretly working on the behalf of the Russians. The New York Times reports that soon after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, law enforcement officials expanded their open investigation into Trump’s campaign to include the president himself.
Trump and the White House are pushing back hard on the allegations, calling them “ridiculous.” Trump later went on to defend himself in a long-winding phone interview with Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro Saturday night. He said his meeting with Putin was “open for grabs,” but when asked directly if he had ever worked on the behalf of the Russians, Trump evaded the question.
PIRRO: So, I’m going to ask you, are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?
TRUMP: 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. And if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing.
The discovery of Trump’s efforts to conceal his discussions with Putin add new threads for special counsel Robert Mueller to unwind as he probes whether the president and his campaign conspired with the Russians to influence the outcome of the 2016 campaign. Together, the two new reports paint an extraordinary picture of the a sitting US president who is being investigated for potentially conspiring with the Russians, and acting as though there is something to hide.
Congressional Democrats are already promising to investigate the meetings
Campaigning last fall to retake the House, Democrats vowed to hold President Trump’s feet to the fire on allegations of possible collusion with the Russians. They’ve started turning those investigative gears — slowly — but have already promised to look into the latest revelations.
Just hours after news of Trump’s secrets came to light, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) said his panel would launch an investigation into Trump’s meeting and interview top administration officials about the contents of the president’s dealings with Putin, including their behind-closed-door meeting in Helsinki last summer.
“Every time Trump meets with Putin, the country is told nothing,” Engel said a statement. “We will be holding hearings on the mysteries swirling around Trump’s bizarre relationship with Putin.”
It won’t be the only thing they’re looking into — Engel has also laid out plans to scrap a terrorism panel in order to resurrect an oversight and investigations subcommittee that was disbanded years ago. It will look into Trump’s business dealings, specifically investigating whether the family’s global empire has had any influence on his foreign policy agenda.