MOSCOW—In his first public comments on the political scandal that has engulfed the Trump administration, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wouldn’t oppose his conversations with President Trump being made public, a reversal of the Kremlin’s position opposing the publication of the two leaders’ talks.
The Kremlin has until now voiced opposition to the publication of the conversations between Messrs. Trump and Putin. Exchanges between the two leaders have generated intense interest in light of evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Mr. Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders have come under scrutiny amid a political firestorm surrounding a July phone call Mr. Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During that call, the U.S. president pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to launch an investigation into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden.
The White House has released only brief descriptions of conversations between Messrs. Putin and Trump since the latter took office. President Trump didn’t have official note takers present in his first meeting with Mr. Putin in 2017, even though the Russians asked to have a note taker present.
Speaking at an energy conference in Moscow, Mr. Putin said he is open to the publication of the conversations because he has always assumed his words could eventually become public. He added, however, that certain things should remain private.
“I’ve not been working all my life in the capacity that I’m working in today,” said Mr. Putin, who was formerly an intelligence officer with Russia’s secret services. “My previous life taught me that any of my conversations can be published.”
The White House has clamped down on access to records of Mr. Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders in the wake of leaks of details of some conversations.
Revelations that documents regarding conversations Mr. Trump had with Mr. Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman were placed on a secret server have spurred the U.S. Congress to push to get access to conversations between the U.S. and Russian leaders. Democratic lawmakers cite concerns that Mr. Trump may have violated rules on national security.
In his remarks Wednesday, Mr. Putin referred to the 2018 meeting between the two leaders in Helsinki.
The Russian side didn’t object to the publication of that conversation, since there was nothing that would compromise Mr. Trump, the Russian leader said. However, the White House didn’t want to publish details of the leaders’ conversation at that meeting.
As he sat down ahead of the Helsinki meeting, Mr. Trump was accompanied only by a translator in the meeting with Mr. Putin. Without Pentagon, State Department or National Security Council officials attending, only the White House could provide details of the discussion.
Mr. Putin said he told the Trump administration Moscow didn’t object to publishing details of that conversation.
“Well, if someone wants to find out something, publish it. We are not opposed,” Mr. Putin said referring to the Helsinki discussion. “I assure you, there is nothing that compromised President Trump. They just did not want to do this, as I understand it, for reasons of principle. There are things that should be closed, and that’s all.”
Mr. Putin’s remarks were contrary to earlier comments by his spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Mr. Lavrov has voiced opposition to diplomatic exchanges, such as the one between Messrs. Trump and Zelensky, being made public.
Mr. Putin said that he and President Trump have never had close relations, but they have established a trusting relationship.
“We’ve never had any affinity, it’s not just now,” the Russian leader said. “We have a good business, in my opinion, fairly stable, trusting relationship, but the closeness of relations between me and President Trump does not affect the internal political disputes in the USA.”
The Russian president defended Mr. Trump, saying that when the results of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller were released, the U.S. president’s opponents needed to find another way to try to support the conspiracy theory that Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections.
“Any pretext is being used to attack President Trump. Now it is Ukraine and the related showdown in terms of relations with Ukraine and Zelensky,” Mr. Putin said.
The Mueller report, which documented findings of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and sought to determine whether President Trump was complicit in aiding Moscow’s actions, didn’t conclude that Mr. Trump committed a crime, but it also didn’t exonerate him.
There is no such thing as an outrage-free week anymore. On Wednesday, President Trump offered us a particularly stunning example of this new political reality, telling the ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos that he would welcome foreign interference in an election and probably wouldn’t bother to tell the F.B.I. about any outside governments bringing him dirt on his opponent. On Thursday, he doubled down on this position, arguing, in effect, that accepting help from Vladimir Putin would be no different from dining with the Queen of England and the “Prince of Whales,” as he put it in a tweet. Trump, instead of proclaiming “no collusion,” now seemed to be announcing that he is pro-collusion. It didn’t take long for commentators to wonder about his strategy here as much as about his poor spelling: Does the President actually want Congress to impeach him?
One of Trump’s great skills has been to confound his opponents. In the third year of his Presidency, this is as true as it was on his first day in office, and his critics, at home and abroad, have, in the intervening time, become more skilled at reading Trump but hardly less capable or united in agreeing what to do about him. They have received the message that he is a threat to the established order—just about any established order—but resistance has often been more loud than effective, and the divisions over how to take him on seem to widen by the day. He is historically unpopular for a President by many measures, but no matter what he does the allegiance of some forty per cent of the American public has so far remained unwavering.
In Washington, Democrats currently have two opposite and contradictory theories of the case. They cannot both be right. For the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the idea is to beat Trump politically in the 2020 election and, while using Congress’s powers to aggressively investigate him and his Administration, refuse to be drawn into a politicized impeachment proceeding that will not result in his removal from office. “A reluctance to drop the hammer is a healthy thing in a democracy,” Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who agrees with the Speaker’s approach, told reporters on Thursday, when confronted with the President’s latest insult to his own law-enforcement agencies. Many of the nearly two dozen Democrats running for President are also believers in a version of this theory. Though some have endorsed impeachment and all are vociferously anti-Trump, they are focussing their campaigns less on the damage that the President poses to the constitutional order than on wonky, issues-oriented appeals to voters.
Then there is the Biden school. The former Vice-President regularly called Trump an “existential threat” to the country this week, in an Iowa campaign swing. In this, he is more or less in synch with those lawmakers back in Washington who believe that the evidence of Presidential obstruction assembled by the special counsel Robert Mueller warrants immediate impeachment proceedings, regardless of whether they turn out to be politically advantageous for the Democrats. So far, there are about sixty members of the House (including a majority of the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee and a lone Republican, Justin Amash, of Michigan) who are on the record as supporting this course, which leaves a couple hundred more to convince. On the campaign trail, Biden leads early polls with his “Make America America Again” approach, but, if his opponents are right that voters want more than just an anti-Trump crusade, then his theory of the case will be not just wrong but disastrously so.
A fight between Pelosi and her fellow-Democrats is exactly what Trump wants. He seeks division and discord; he benefits from it. It is surely one reason, among many, why the damaging revelations reported by Mueller have had almost no effect on his public standing. If anything, this week’s tiresome outrage cycle is a reminder of Trump’s uniquely successful brand of public crazy. Does anyone remember that he also announced this week that he will soon meet alone with Putin again, despite the uproar over their still mysterious one-on-one summit this past year, in Helsinki? Or that Trump said that he wouldn’t allow the C.I.A. to spy on his “friend,” the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, after revelations that Kim’s murdered half-brother had been an American informant? Or that Trump spent the first part of the week claiming that he had cut a secret deal with Mexico on illegal immigration, a deal which Mexico denies exists and whose particulars he has yet to produce?
Trump is a political octopus, squirting so much diversionary black ink at us that diversion is the new normal. The new issue of Foreign Affairs out this week declares this historical moment “the self-destruction of American power” and offers a depressing autopsy on the vanishing of U.S. global leadership. But there are too many outrages of the day, of every day, to think about it. Some members of Congress are now publicly confessing that they haven’t had time even to read the Mueller report (and more are saying so in private, as I myself have heard). I doubt that they are stopping to consider the collapse of the liberal international order.
I happened to watch this week’s edition of the Trump show from the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin, which, later this year, will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the American-midwifed reunification of Germany that followed. I attended a meeting of fervent transatlanticists that was dominated, as conversations invariably are these days, by the question of what to do about Trump. The Germans are no less confounded than the Democrats.
President Trump’s efforts to hide his conversations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and new details about the F.B.I. inquiry into his ties to Moscow have intensified debate over his relationship with Russia, adding fuel to Democrats’ budding investigations of his presidency and potentially setting up a clash between the White House and Congress
.. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, who now leads the Intelligence Committee as part of the new Democratic House majority, implored his Republican colleagues Sunday to support his effort to obtain notes or testimony from the interpreter in one of the private meetings between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.
“Will they join us now?” Mr. Schiff wrote on Twitter. “Shouldn’t we find out whether our president is really putting ‘America first?’”
The administration appears unlikely to acquiesce to such a demand without a fight.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly withheld details of his conversations with Mr. Putin, according to current and former American officials, a practice that has left officials blind to the dynamic between the two leaders and intensified questions within the administration over the president’s actions... On Sunday, congressional Democrats said the steps Mr. Trump took to keep his conversations secret brought forth uncomfortable questions about the relations between the two men and why the American president echoed some of Mr. Putin’s positions.
“Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin, this man who is a former K.G.B. agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world and tries his damnedest to undermine our elections?” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Why is this President Trump’s best buddy? I don’t get it.”
Mr. Trump went so far as to take the notes from the interpreter who worked with him during a private meeting with Mr. Putin at the 2017 Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany... A former senior administration official said a number of top figures in the administration sought in the hours and days after the meeting to find out details of what Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had discussed. But Mr. Trump waved off their queries, leaving the officials to rely solely on a brief readout that Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state at the time, had provided to the news media, according to the former official.
.. Several administration officials asked the interpreter what had been discussed. But the interpreter told them that the president had taken the notes after the meeting, and had instructed the translator not to discuss the meeting, the former official said...Mr. Trump’s failure to allow other officials into the room or share notes of the meeting has become something of a Rorschach test inside the government.
For opponents of the president, there are no innocent explanations for Mr. Trump’s actions, which are possible evidence that Mr. Trump has colluded with Russia, a question at the heart of the special counsel inquiry. For supporters, Mr. Trump’s actions are evidence that he must go to extreme lengths to prevent leaks and is a nontraditional politician pursuing new approaches to old problems.
Republicans defended Mr. Trump on Sunday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that any notion the president was a threat to American security “is absolutely ludicrous.”
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, defended Mr. Trump’s choice to talk privately with Mr. Putin or other leaders.
“I know what the president likes to do,” Mr. McCarthy said on “Face the Nation.” “He likes to create a personal relationship, build that relationship, even rebuild that relationship, like he does with other world leaders around.”.. Mr. Mueller asked Mr. Trump whether he had any discussions during the campaign about any meetings with Mr. Putin and whether he spoke to others about American sanctions against Russia... The revelation about the earlier F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation prompted Republicans to renew their criticism of the bureau.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and fierce defender of Mr. Trump, told Fox News he was going to ask Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, if the bureau had begun a counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Graham said there should be checks inside the bureau to prevent such an investigation.
“I find it astonishing, and to me, it tells me a lot about the people running the F.B.I.,” Mr. Graham said. “I don’t trust them as far as I throw them.”.. Without official detailed notes about Mr. Trump’s conversations, senior officials in the administration have had to rely on intelligence reports about what the Russians were saying to one another after the meeting. There are limits to what officials could glean from the intelligence, current and former officials said. And the Russians could hardly be considered reliable narrators, even with one another.
While that frustrated some in the government, the former senior administration official said he was not unsympathetic to Mr. Trump’s predicament. The official said the president feared that whatever he said to Mr. Putin would be twisted by critics.
But because access to meetings and transcripts was tightened after early leaks, some officials believed Mr. Trump’s decision to take the notes was too extreme and raised questions about what he was trying to keep private, the former official said.
The week before Christmas may go down as the strangest and most revealing of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Over just a few days, his sheer
- venality and
were laid bare. But it was also a time for Trumpian good deeds that allowed us a glimpse at how he might have governed if he had been shrewder — and had a genuine interest in the good that government can do.
.. Let’s start with his display of gangsterism and utter indifference to the law in a tweet Sunday calling his former lawyer Michael Cohen a “Rat” for telling the truth about various matters, including his dealings with Russia to build a Trump tower in Moscow and the president’s payoffs before the 2016 election to hide his alleged sexual conduct.
“Rat,” as many have pointed out, is a legendary organized-crime epithet, and we really are gazing at something like the Trump Family Syndicate. On Tuesday, the New York state attorney general, Barbara Underwood, forced the closure of the Donald J. Trump Foundation for what she described as “a shocking pattern of illegality.” She said the foundation functioned “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”
And, yes, this was an all-in-the-family thing. The foundation’s board consistedof Trump himself, his three adult children and the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg. Incidentally, if you wonder why Trump hates the media so much, consider that it was the painstaking work of The Post’s David Fahrenthold that first blew the lid off Trump’s scamming disguised as charity.
.. But that wasn’t all. Two reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee made it abundantly clear that Trump was Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate in 2016 — and remained Putin’s guy after he won.
This is a key civil rights issue of our time. (Voting rights is another, and on this problem Trump is pushing entirely in the wrong direction.) The long sentences the new law would roll back hit African Americans the hardest. That’s particularly true of the disparity in the treatment of crack and powder cocaine sellers that the legislation would mitigate.
It’s often observed that Trump has few discernible political principles. A problem in many respects, this did give Trump enormous flexibility when he came into office. What if he had governed in other areas with the same eye toward bipartisan agreement that led him to criminal-justice reform?
Imagine a big infrastructure bill or a far less regressive approach to tax reform. Democrats would have been hard-pressed not to work with him. Instead, Trump just kept dividing us and stoking his base. He lazily went along with traditional conservatives on taxes and corporate lobbyists in the regulatory sphere because governing was never really the point. And now, he is reaping the whirlwind.