The Corner

Politics & Policy

The ‘Trump Hid His Meetings with Putin’ Stories Begin to Unravel

On Sunday, the mainstream media launched a new ploy to promote their Trump-Russia collusion narrative with a story that first appeared in the Washington Post titled “Officials in dark on Putin talks.” A similar piece was published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, titled “Trump didn’t use notetakers at Putin/ Meeting.” Cable-news networks and Democratic congressmen claim these stories indicate that President Trump held secret discussions with Russian president Putin that were revealed to no one. For example, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) told CNN on Sunday that the U.S. government “does not know” what Trump and Putin discussed.

It is now clear that these stories were misleading, if not mostly false. First, they neglected to mention that the president’s decision to restrict access to read-outs of his two one-on-one meetings with Putin were due to the extraordinary number of leaks to the press of his phone calls and meetings with foreign officials at the beginning of his presidency.

Second, it is untrue that senior officials are unaware of what was discussed in President Trump’s meetings with Putin.

Concerning Trump’s first meeting with Putin in 2017, although a notetaker reportedly was not present and Mr. Trump allegedly took possession of his interpreter’s notes, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended this meeting and provided a detailed read-out to senior U.S. officials. It is clear that the unnamed officials cited in the Washington Post piece on the 2017 Trump-Putin meeting were irritated that they were not provided with copies of Tillerson’s read-out of the meeting, not that there wasn’t a read-out. It also is ridiculous for the press to assert that President Trump said something nefarious to Putin with Tillerson present.

Concerning President Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki last July, I can attest as former national-security council executive secretary and chief of staff that senior U.S. officials — including myself — know everything that was discussed. Again, the real issue here is that some U.S. officials are irritated that they do not know what was discussed in this meeting and voiced their frustrations to the press.

The media’s claim that this story amounts to a U.S. president concealing his secret discussions with the Russian president as part of his alleged collusion with Russia is fake news. Senior U.S. officials knew exactly what was discussed in these meetings. This story is really about a successful effort by President Trump to prevent anti-Trump government officials from leaking sensitive national-security information to the press.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff.

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