Donald Trump apparently doesn’t want anyone, including senior officials from his own administration, to know what he discussed in private on several occasions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A report by The Washington Post describes a broad “pattern by the president 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.”
This pattern includes Trump seizing the notes from his own interpreter and telling that person not to share details with other officials, the Post said.
Due to Trump’s secrecy, no official records exist—not even classified ones—of conversations between Trump and Putin at five locations in the past two years, the report said.
The revelation follows another report by The New York Times saying that the FBI in 2017 opened a counterintelligence investigation of Trump to determine if he was working on behalf of the Russian government. Such an investigation, to determine whether the sitting U.S. president poses a national security threat, is unprecedented in U.S. history.
One of the meetings with Putin took place in Hamburg, Germany, in 2017. Another was held in Helsinki, Finland, last July. In Helsinki, Trump shocked everyone by refusing to rebuke Putin for Russia’s attack on U.S. elections in 2016. Standing next to Putin at a news conference, Trump sounded more like a spokesman for the Russian government than a U.S. president.
The Hamburg meeting was attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who provided a readout afterward to administration officials. But later, a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought clarification from Trump’s interpreter and learned of Trump’s gag order, the Post reported.
Officials said they were unable to obtain a readout from Trump’s two-hour meeting with Putin in Helsinki. At that private meeting, the newspaper said, Trump did not allow anyone from his Cabinet or any of his aides to attend.
As the Post pointed out, the Hamburg meeting occurred after details of a Trump meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office were leaked to the press. In that meeting, Trump reportedly disclosed classified information to the Russian officials, and told them that the firing of former FBI Director James Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said he would form a subcommittee to investigate. “It’s been several months since Helsinki and we still don’t know what went on in that meeting,” he told the Post. “It’s appalling.”
Trump responded to the report Saturday night while phoning in to Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show, saying, “Anyone could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs.”
He provided no additional details.