Greg Miller at WP:
President 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 own 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 own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.Tom Nichols at USA Today:
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 sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.
[T]he president’s attempts to hide the content of his conversations with Putin are not only abnormal but also deeply suspect. The intelligence community, members of Congress and the public should always be anxious whenever any American official talks to a top Russian leader and then tries to seize the notes. This kind of behavior violates practices of sensible diplomacy and intelligence analysis, and no one acts this way for innocent reasons.
Nor are conversations between the president and Putin merely some personal matter. Such discussions might in fact need to be confidential; sensitive diplomacy often requires a close hold on the informal back-and-forth between top leaders. But their content should be known at the very least to the administration’s own top intelligence and foreign policy advisers.
It’s one thing to hold back information for strategic reasons from the public or even the opposition party. All presidents have done that. It’s another to withhold information from your own advisers.Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare:
This is not normal, in any way. As things stand, more people in the Kremlin than in Washington know what Trump said to Putin. It is almost certain that there are readouts and analyses of Trump’s discussions with Putin — but that for now, they are in Russian.
Put simply, I don’t believe the FBI, having an open counterintelligence investigation, simply opened a new criminal investigation of obstruction in the wake of the Comey firing. I think there likely was—and still is—one umbrella investigation with a number of different threads. That one investigation was (and is) about Russia. And it had (and still has), as a subsidiary matter, a number of subsidiary files open about people on the U.S. side who had links to Russian government activity. Each of these files had (and still has) all of the counterintelligence and criminal tools available to the U.S. government at its disposal.
So when the president sought to impair the investigation, having declared both in the draft letter dismissing Comey and to Lester Holt that his action was connected in some way to the Russia investigation, that raised both potential criminal questions and major counterintelligence questions—questions that could only have been reinforced when Trump later announced to senior Russian government officials that he had relieved pressure on himself by acting as he did. It did so both because it threatened the investigation itself and because it fit directly into a pattern of interface between Trump campaign officials and Russian government actors that they were already investigating.Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast:
The Kremlin has long denied that it had anything to do with the infiltration of the NRA and the broader American conservative movement. A U.S. intelligence report reviewed by The Daily Beast tells a different story.
Alexander Torshin, the Russian central bank official who spent years aggressively courting NRA leaders, briefed the Kremlin on his efforts and recommended they participate, according to the report. Its existence and contents have not previously been reported.
While there has been speculation that Torshin and his protege, Maria Butina, had the Kremlin’s blessing to woo the NRA—and federal prosecutors have vaguely asserted that she acted “on behalf of the Russian federation”—no one in the White House or the U.S. intelligence community has publicly stated as much. Senior Russian government officials, for their part, have strenuously distanced themselves from Butina’s courtship of the NRA, which she did at Torshin’s direction.
The report, on the other hand, notes that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fine with Torshin’s courtship of the NRA because the relationships would be valuable if a Republican won the
“This reporting indicates that Alexander Torshin was working with the blessing of the Kremlin, at a minimum,” one European intelligence official told The Daily Beast. The official added that this reporting is consistent with his group’s understanding of how the Kremlin operates.
“The NRA is quite powerful, so when you look to influence U.S. politics, you should consider them as a convenient target,” the official added.