As President Donald Trump ends his first week under an impeachment inquiry in Congress, new reports are emerging that White House officials have taken extraordinary steps to protect him from his own big mouth.
CNN and The New York Times reported Friday evening that the White House had stored transcripts of calls Trump had with foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of the Saudi royal family, on a highly classified computer system.
This practice was first revealed by the whistleblower complaint at the center of the impeachment inquiry, which stated that notes of a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were stored on the classified system.
Several media sources have since reported that the effort was undertaken to prevent leaks from the White House about Trump’s conversations, several of which had proven to be embarrassing to the president.
Adding to this reporting, The Washington Post also published a damning story on Friday about Trump’s 2017 meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. We already knew that it been a bad meeting for Trump—despite U.S. reporters being barred from attending—and Trump had acknowledged that he was happy to have fired then FBI Director James Comey the previous day.
Trump also shared with the Russian officials highly classified information that revealed an intelligence source.
Now, the Post reports, during the same meeting, Trump had said he wasn’t concerned with Russian attacks on the previous year’s elections, which helped put him in office.
Per the Post:
President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter.
It’s not clear if a memo of that meeting was stored on the same highly classified system as the later phone calls, but access to it was limited to a very small group of people.
The Post added:
White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.
At the time, leaks from this meeting had embarrassed the president, as did previous media accounts of Trump’s conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia. Therefore, according to the Times, “tighter restrictions” were put in place.
Per the Times:
In the case of the calls with the Saudi royal family, the restrictions were set beforehand, and the number of people allowed to listen was sharply restricted. The Saudi calls placed in the restricted system were with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Khalid bin Salman, who at the time was the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
While the calls included delicate information about Mr. Trump’s discussions about the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, there was no apparent evidence of impropriety by Mr. Trump, said a person familiar with the matter.
The Associated Press reported Saturday morning that these restrictions on transcripts and memos from conversations with Putin and the Saudis “was not an attempt to conceal improper discussions but rather keep distribution about the substance of the calls to a minimum in light of the leaked transcripts from the summer of 2017.”
I’m not sure which is worse: The president being intentionally dangerous and hiding crimes on highly classified systems; or, the president being dangerously stupid, and having his people hide crimes on highly classified systems. Both are troubling, as we see from yesterday’s reporting.