Russian leader’s conversations with U.S. president at Helsinki summit have generated intense interest
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.