President Trump has made extraordinary efforts to hide details of his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including at least one occasion to take possession of the notes of his own interpreter and to instruct the linguist not to discuss anything with other authorities had been official, current and former US officials said.
Trump did so after meeting Putin in 2017 in Hamburg, which was also attended by former Foreign Minister Rex Tillerson. US officials learned about Trump's actions when a White House advisor and a senior State Department official searched for information shared by Tillerson.
The constraints imposed by Trump are part of a broader pattern by the President to shield his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and prevent even high-ranking officials in his own government from knowing what he said to one of the United States' main opponents Has.
As a result, US officials said there was no detailed information, even in trump classified files face to face with the Russian leader at five locations in the last two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, not to mention one that Russia sought to create through an election designated by US intelligence agencies as an unprecedented election campaign.
Supplementary attorney Robert S. Müller III is believed to be in the final stages of an investigation that focused primarily on whether Trump or his associates had plotted with Russia during the 201
Former US officials said Trump's behavior was in conflict with the well-known practices of past presidents who relied on seniors of meetings and making extensive notes, which they then shared with other officials and departments.
Trump's secrecy regarding Putin "is not only unusual by historical standards, but also outrageous," said Strobe Talbott Brookings Institution, which in the 90s attended more than a dozen meetings between President Bill Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin has participated. "It hampers the US government – the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] – and it certainly gives Putin much more leeway to manipulate Trump."
A White House spokesman denied this characterization, saying that the Trump administration has sought to "improve relations with Russia" after the Obama administration "pursued a flawed" reset policy " Engagement was looking for. "
The Trump government "has imposed significant new sanctions in response to Russian vicious activities," said the spokesman, who commented on the condition of anonymity, and found that Tillerson "immediately after 2017 other US officials in one
Trump allies said the president thinks the presence of subordinates is affecting his ability to connect with Putin, and that his desire for secrecy exists, perhaps through embarrassing leaks who appeared at the beginning of his presidency.
The meeting took place in Hamburg several months after the Washington Post and other news organizations revealed details of what Trump told Russian colleagues at a meeting with Russian officials Oval Office. Trump uncovered secret information about a terrorist attack that called former FBI director James B. Comey "crazy" and said that Comey's shooting had lifted "great pressure" on his relationship with Russia.
The White House launched internal leak-hunts after and other episodes and severely restricted the distribution of memos about the president's interactions with foreign leaders in the National Security Council.
"As time went by it got more and more difficult, I think, because Trump himself had the feeling that leaks in the call logs were detrimental to him," a former government official said.
The high-democrat legislators describe the secrecy of secrecy surrounding Trump's meeting Putin as Unparalleled and Disturbing.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (DN.Y.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Parliament, said in an interview that his panel will form an investigative subcommittee whose objectives include to catch up with US State Department documents on Trump's encounters with Putin, including a door meeting with the Russian leader last summer in Helsinki.
"Helsinki has been around for a few months, and we still do not know what's in it The meeting was going on, "Engel said." It's awful, you just have to scratch your head. "
The misgivings became n strengthened by actions and positions that Trump has taken as President, which are considered favorable for the Kremlin. He dismissed Russia's interference as a "joke", pointing out that Russia was allowed to annex Crimea, repeatedly attacking NATO allies, resisting sanctions against Moscow, and starting to pull US forces out of Syria – a move that has taken Critics see as The soil was effectively ceded to Russia.
At the same time, Trump's decision to fire Comey and other attempts to curb the ongoing investigation led the Office in May 2017 to initiate a counterintelligence investigation into whether he wanted to help Russia, and if so The New York Times reported for the first time.
It is unclear whether Trump took notes from interpreters on other occasions, but several officials said they were never able to reliably identify the president's two-hour hour meeting in Helsinki. Unlike in Hamburg, Trump allowed no cabinet officials or helpers to be in the room for this conversation.
Trump also held other private talks with Putin at meetings of global leaders outside the presence of adjutants. He spoke extensively with Putin at a banquet at the same 2017 World Conference in Hamburg, where only Putin's interpreter was present. Trump had a brief conversation with Putin at a summit meeting in Buenos Aires last month.
Trump generally allowed helpers to hear his telephone conversations with Putin, although Russia often revealed these calls first when they appeared. In an email, Tillerson said he was "present in Hamburg throughout the official bilateral meeting of the two presidents" , however, refused to discuss the meeting, and did not respond to questions whether Trump had instructed the interpreter to remain silent or to have taken the interpreter's notes.
In a press conference, Tillerson said the Trump Putin meeting lasted more than two hours and the war in Syria includes other issues, and this Trump had "put pressure on President Putin more than once on Russia's involvement ". "President Putin denied such participation, as I believe in the past," said Tillerson.
Tillerson refused to say during the press conference whether Trump had rejected Putin's claim or that he believed the conclusion of US intelligence that Russia had interfered.
Tillerson's report contradicts the only detail that other administrators could receive from the interpreter, officials said. Although the interpreter refused to discuss the meeting, officials said he admitted that Putin had denied Russia any participation in the US election, and Trump then replied, "I believe you."
White House White House officials, including the then National Security Advisor, HR McMaster, have never been able to get a full report on the meeting, not even from Tillerson.
"We were frustrated because we were not read aloud," a former government official said. "The State Department and [National Security Council] were never satisfied with Trump's interactions with Putin," the official said. "God only knows what they would talk or agree with."
With no reliable record of Trump's talks with Putin, officials sometimes had to rely on reports from US intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.
Former Presidents and senior advisers have frequently reviewed such reports to determine if they have met their goals in meetings and to gain insights for future discussions.
US intelligence agencies were reluctant to draw attention to such reports during Trump's presidency, as they had occasionally received comments from foreign officials who dismissed the president or his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a former high-ranking government official.
] "There was a more restrained attitude by the intelligence community when it came to conducting this type of communication and reporting it," said a former government official who worked in the White House. "The feedback was not positive."
The interpreter in Hamburg revealed the restrictions imposed by Trump when he was approached by administrative officials of the hotel where the US delegation resided.
Among the officers Respondents asked for details of the meeting: Fiona Hill, NSC's senior Russian adviser, and John Heffern, who was then deputy deputy secretary for European and Eurasian affairs in the state.
The Foreign Ministry did not answer a request for a comment from the interpreter. Heffern, who had withdrawn from the state in 2017, declined to comment.
Hill refused a request for an interview through a spokesman.
There are conflicting reports about the purpose of the interview with the interpreter, with some officials saying that Hill was one of those tutored by Tillerson, and she was just looking for more sophisticated information from the interpreter.
Others said the goal was to get a more meaningful result than the little information Tillerson provided. "I remember Fiona telling me that," a former official said. A second former official, who was present in Hamburg, said that Tillerson had "not offered a briefing, summoned the ambassador or anyone, he did not give brief briefings for executives," even though he had "read the press."
A similar problem occurred in Helsinki, the scene of the first official US-Russia summit since Trump took office. Hill, national security adviser John Bolton, and other US officials attended a preparatory meeting that included Trump, Putin, and other high-ranking Russian officials.
Trump and Putin then met for two hours privately and only with their interpreters. Trump's interpreter, Marina Gross, emerged from the meeting with notes.
Several concerned people were concerned about the secrecy of Trump's meeting with Putin and then tried to force Gross to testify to Congress what she had seen. Others argued that a violation of them would violate the impartial role of interpreters in diplomacy. Gross was not forced to testify. She was identified when members of the congress wanted to speak to her. The interpreter in Hamburg was not identified.
During a joint press conference with Putin, Trump confirmed that he was discussing Syria's policies and other issues, but also pleaded with the media and federal investigators and appeared to reject the findings of the US intelligence agencies by stating that he was "powerfully" denying Putin was convinced of the interference of the elections.
Former presidents called on senior aides to attend meetings with opponents, including the Russian president, to ensure that there are no misunderstandings and that others in the administration are able to pursue agreements or plans. Detailed notes that Talbot took from Clinton's meeting with Yeltsin are among hundreds of documents released and released last year.
John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Julie Tate contributed to this report.