Whatever is being discussed in Donald Trump’s various private conversations with Vladimir Putin may forever be lost to the mists of time.
After details of his conversations with foreign leaders were leaked to the press in the early days of his presidency, Trump has taken care to make sure there were no aides, note-takers or even American translators present during his private encounters with Putin.
The president’s lengthy discussions with his Russian counterpart continue with alarming frequency — most recently, in an hour-long phone call the two leaders had on Friday.
The Russian embassy said in a statement posted on its site that the phone call was “at the initiative of the American side” and that the “current state and prospects of bilateral relations were discussed with a focus on economic cooperation,” among other matters. Tass posted what it said was a photo of Putin during the call with Trump.
As is usually the case when Trump checks in with Putin, there was no formal read-out from the White House, although White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did take a few shouted questions from the press about the call after the fact, in which she blamed Russian election interference on the president’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Trump tweeted dismissively early Saturday about “Russian Collusion” and “the Fake News Media” in praising his “good/great relationship” with Putin.
Very good call yesterday with President Putin of Russia. Tremendous potential for a good/great relationship with Russia, despite what you read and see in the Fake News Media. Look how they have misled you on “Russia Collusion.” The World can be a better and safer place. Nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2019
One day earlier, the president tweeted about a roster of things he said he and Putin had discussed, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s recently-concluded investigation into Russian interference in the last U.S. presidential election, derided by the president as a “Witch Hunt.”
“Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia,” Trump wrote on Friday. “As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing ….”
….We discussed Trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, Nuclear Arms Control and even the “Russian Hoax.” Very productive talk!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2019
Russia’s hacking and disinformation campaign was at the heart of Mueller’s nearly two-year-long investigation which has overshadowed Trump’s entire presidency. But asked by a reporter at the White House on Friday whether he raised election meddling with Putin during their phone call, Trump curtly replied, “We didn’t discuss that.”
That outreach — especially from the American side — keeps coming is nothing short of remarkable, given that Robert Mueller confirmed in no uncertain terms that Russia interfered in the last presidential elections.
Foreign policy experts have suggested that in normal times, a more appropriate response might have been a tit-for-tat disinformation attack against Russia, combined with sanctions, and a diplomatic cold shoulder. Instead, Trump draws ever closer to Putin.
One former federal prosecutor has a theory, surmising with respect to election meddling that Trump wants Putin to do more of the same in 2020.
Trump will talk for an hour with his buddy Putin – you know, the guy who cyber-attacked our country – but Trump was scared to death to talk with Bob Mueller for even five minutes. Congress, if you’re listening . . .
— Glenn Kirschner (@glennkirschner2) May 4, 2019
“He’s telling Vladimir Putin, keep it up, 2020 is coming, I’ll be up for re-election,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal and U.S. Army prosecutor. “Not only is he not trying to deter it, he’s encouraging it,” Kirschner told MSNBC on Saturday. “So 2020, if he is still with us, he could be re-elected with Russia’s help,” he said. “He’s welcoming and encouraging Russian interference in our elections.” Trump last year left political observers slack-jawed when, at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, he publicly called into question his own intelligence officials’ conclusions about Russian meddling — instead opting to side with the Russian leader. One of those intelligence officials, FBI director Christopher Wray, last week echoed the threat from Moscow to America’s upcoming presidential election. FBI Director Christopher Wray, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Russia “poses a very significant counterintelligence threat” to the United States as the election draws closer. Wray reassured the audience that “enormous strides” have been made since 2016, but warned that Russia and other U.S. adversaries will “keep at it.” The FBI chief added that the 2018 midterm elections — which were targeted by less outside interference than some security experts had feared — was merely a “dress rehearsal” for 2020.
Read more: thinkprogress.org