Trump strives to con­ceal de­tails of Putin talks

The Columbus Dispatch - - Morningstarters - Greg Miller

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has gone to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths to con­ceal de­tails of his con­ver­sa­tions with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, in­clud­ing on at least one oc­ca­sion tak­ing pos­ses­sion of the notes of his in­ter­preter and in­struct­ing the lin­guist not to dis­cuss what had tran­spired with other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, current and for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials said.

Trump did so af­ter a meet­ing with Putin in 2017 in Ham­burg that was also at­tended by then-sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son. U.S. of­fi­cials learned of Trump’s ac­tions 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 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 ad­min­is­tra­tion from fully know­ing what he has told one of the na­tion’s 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.

For­mer U.S. of­fi­cials said that Trump’s be­hav­ior is at odds with the known prac­tices of pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents, who have re­lied on se­nior aides to wit­ness meet­ings and take com­pre­hen­sive notes that are then shared with other of­fi­cials and de­part­ments.

A White House spokesman said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has sought to “im­prove the re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia” af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion “pur­sued a flawed ‘re­set’ pol­icy that sought en­gage­ment for the sake of en­gage­ment.”

Trump al­lies said the pres­i­dent thinks the pres­ence of sub­or­di­nates im­pairs his abil­ity to es­tab­lish a rap­port with Putin.

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