Democrats: Let Mueller do job

News re­ports say Trump hid de­tails of meet­ings with Putin

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - COM­PILED BY DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE RE­PORTS

WASH­ING­TON — Re­cent news re­ports raise new ques­tions about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pos­si­ble ties to Rus­sia and em­pha­size the need to en­sure that spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion reaches its con­clu­sion with­out in­ter­fer­ence, Se­nate Democrats said Sun­day.

The New York Times re­ported Fri­day that the FBI had opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2017 to de­ter­mine whether the pres­i­dent had worked, know­ingly or un­know­ingly, on be­half of Rus­sia and against U.S. in­ter­ests. On Satur­day, a Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle said Trump went to great lengths to hide de­tails of his dis­cus­sions with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Ac­cord­ing to a sep­a­rate re­port in the Wall Street Jour­nal on Sun­day, Trump didn’t have of­fi­cial note-tak­ers present dur­ing a more than two-hour meet­ing with Putin in Ham­burg, Ger­many,

July 2017. Many top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials never were briefed on the dis­cus­sion, the Jour­nal said, cit­ing sev­eral of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

The Rus­sians asked to have a note-taker present, but Trump asked then-Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son to take notes with the in­ten­tion of re­lay­ing the de­tails to rel­e­vant of­fi­cials after­ward, the news­pa­per re­ported.

Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post, U.S. of­fi­cials learned of Trump’s ac­tions after the Ham­burg meet­ing when a White House ad­viser and a se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial sought in­for­ma­tion from the in­ter­preter be­yond a read­out shared by Tiller­son.

The con­straints that Trump im­posed, of­fi­cials said, are part of a broader pat­tern by the pres­i­dent of shield­ing his com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Putin from pub­lic scru­tiny and prevent­ing even high-rank­ing of­fi­cials in his own ad­min­is­tra­tion from fully know­ing what he has told one of the United States’ main ad­ver­saries.

As a re­sult, U.S. of­fi­cials said, there is no de­tailed record, even in clas­si­fied files, of Trump’s face-to-face in­ter­ac­tions with the Rus­sian leader at five lo­ca­tions over the past two years. Such a gap would be un­usual in any pres­i­dency, let alone one that Rus­sia sup­ported through what U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have de­scribed as an un­prece­dented cam­paign of elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

RUS­SIAN CON­NEC­TIONS

The re­ports build on pre­vi­ous ques­tions about Trump’s con­nec­tions with Rus­sia that need to be in­ves­ti­gated, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Sun­day on NBC’s Meet the Press. Kaine in 2016 was the run­ning mate of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hillary Clin­ton, whom Trump de­feated in the elec­tion.

Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in that elec­tion must be al­lowed to fin­ish to pro­vide an­swers, Kaine said.

That process will in­volve seek­ing as­sur­ances this week dur­ing the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing for Wil­liam Barr, Trump’s nom­i­nee for at­tor­ney gen­eral, said Dick Durbin of Illi­nois, the Se­nate’s No. 2 Demo­crat.

“Bill Barr had bet­ter give us some rock — iron­clad, rock-bot­tom as­sur­ances in terms of his in­de­pen­dence and his will­ing­ness to step back and let Mueller fin­ish his job,” Durbin said on ABC’s This Week.

Trump lashed out Satur­day at the New York Times story, which said his fir­ing of for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey prompted the FBI to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The pres­i­dent said he fired Comey for cause and that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was started “for no rea­son and with no proof” of wrong­do­ing. In an in­ter­view Satur­day night, Trump also said he “couldn’t care less”’ if de­tails from his con­ver­sa­tions with Putin were re­leased.

“It’s so ridicu­lous, these peo­ple make it up,” Trump told Jea­nine Pirro on Fox News Chan­nel’s Jus­tice With Judge Jea­nine. He added, as he did on Twit­ter on Satur­day, that he’d been tougher on Rus­sia than re­cent U.S. lead­ers.

Sen. Ron John­son, R-Wis., said Sun­day on CNN’s State of the Union that Trump should be judged by his ac­tions in re­sponse to ques­tions about whether he was com­pro­mised by Rus­sia and that in­ves­ti­ga­tions should “get past the in­nu­endo.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and a mem­ber of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said on NBC that he’ll con­sider what­ever ev­i­dence is pro­duced by Mueller but added, “I’m not go­ing to base it on un­sub­stan­ti­ated me­dia re­ports.”

The staff of Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md., and chair­man of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee, has al­ready sent 51 let­ters ask­ing for doc­u­ments re­lated to in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­volv­ing Trump that the panel may open, ac­cord­ing to a story Sun­day night on CBS’ 60 Min­utes. The is­sues in­clude the pri­vate use of gov­ern­ment-owned air­craft by Cab­i­net mem­bers and the flow of for­eign money into Trump’s busi­nesses.

“We’ve got to hit the ground, not run­ning, but fly­ing,” Cum­mings said.

HELSINKI MEET­ING

It is not clear whether Trump has taken notes from in­ter­preters on other oc­ca­sions, but sev­eral of­fi­cials said they were never able to get a re­li­able read­out after the pres­i­dent held a twohour meet­ing with Putin in Helsinki last year. Un­like in Ham­burg, Trump al­lowed no Cab­i­net of­fi­cials or any aides to be in the room for that con­ver­sa­tion.

Trump had other pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with Putin at meet­ings of global lead­ers, out­side the pres­ence of aides. He spoke at length with Putin at a ban­quet at the same 2017 global con­fer­ence in Ham­burg, with only Putin’s in­ter­preter present. Trump also had a brief con­ver­sa­tion with Putin at a Group of 20 sum­mit in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, last month.

Se­nior Demo­cratic law­mak­ers de­scribe the cloak of se­crecy sur­round­ing Trump’s meet­ings with Putin as un­prece­dented and dis­turb­ing.

Rep. Eliot En­gel, D-N.Y., the chair­man of the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said in an in­ter­view that his panel will form an in­ves­tiga­tive sub­com­mit­tee whose tar­gets will in­clude seek­ing State Depart­ment records of Trump’s en­coun­ters with Putin.

“It’s been sev­eral months since Helsinki, and we still don’t know what went on in that meet­ing,” En­gel said. “It’s ap­palling. It just makes you want to scratch your head.”

Sen. Mark Warner of Vir­ginia, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said Putin’s poli­cies have been “al­most par­roted” by Trump. The lat­est news re­ports bol­ster the case for op­pos­ing the Trea­sury Depart­ment’s plans to lift sanc­tions on three Rus­sian com­pa­nies linked to oli­garch Oleg Deri­paska, Warner said on CNN.

He said Democrats want to vote this week to en­sure the sanc­tions are pre­served.

“As more and more of this in­for­ma­tion comes out about ties be­tween Trump and Trump of­fi­cials and the Rus­sians, it is the worst time to sig­nal that we are go­ing to take the pres­sure off oli­garchs like Deri­paska,” Warner said.

The con­straints that Trump im­posed, of­fi­cials said, are part of a broader pat­tern by the pres­i­dent of shield­ing his com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Putin from pub­lic scru­tiny and prevent­ing even high-rank­ing of­fi­cials in his own ad­min­is­tra­tion from fully know­ing what he has told one of the United States’ main ad­ver­saries.

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