Trump Told Russians He Didn’t Care If They Interfered In 2016 Election
Not surprisingly, President Trump told Russian officials early on that he didn't care if Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
The Washington Post is reporting that President Trump told Russian officials, including the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador to the United States, that he wasn’t concerned about Russian interference in the 2016 election, and implicitly that he would not be concerned about interference in the future:
President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter.
The comments, which have not been previously reported, were part of a now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Trump revealed highly classified information that exposed a source of intelligence on the Islamic State. He also said during the meeting that firing FBI Director James B. Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him.
A memorandum summarizing the meeting was limited to a few officials with the highest security clearances in an attempt to keep the president’s comments from being disclosed publicly, according to the former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
The White House’s classification of records about Trump’s communications with foreign officials is now a central part of the impeachment inquiry launched this week by House Democrats. An intelligence community whistleblower has alleged that the White House placed a record of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, in which he offered U.S. assistance investigating his political opponents, into a code-word classified system reserved for the most sensitive intelligence information.
The White House did not provide a comment Friday.
It is not clear whether a memo documenting the May 10, 2017, meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak was placed into that system, but the three former officials said it was restricted to a very small number of people. The White House had recently begun limiting the records of Trump’s calls after remarks he made to the leaders of Mexico and Australia appeared in news reports. The Lavrov memo was restricted to an even smaller group, the former officials said.
A fourth former official, who did not recall the president’s remarks to the Russian officials, said memos were restricted only to people who needed to know their contents.
“It was more about learning how can we restrict this in a way that still informs the policy process and the principals who need to engage with these heads of state,” the fourth former official said.
But the three former officials with knowledge of the remarks said some memos of the president’s communications were kept from people who might ordinarily have access to them. The Lavrov memo fit that description, they said.
White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.
This isn’t a surprising attitude from the President of the United States. After all, he spent the better part of two and a half years seeking to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian interference in the election and the issue of potential collusion between individuals connected to the President’s campaign and Russian officials. After winning the election, he attempted on a number of occasions to forestall that investigation by pressuring then F.B.I. Director James Comey to back off on the investigation of Michael Flynn, firing Comey due to the Russia investigation and threatening to fire Mueller. At his summit meeting last year with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he stood next to the Russian President and accepted his claim that Russia did not interfere in the election despite the fact that the heads of all the major intelligence agencies, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies. said other otherwise. And, of course, most recently, we learned that he pressured the leader of another foreign nation to help him find “dirt” on a political rival.
Coincidentally, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about this meeting between Trump, the Russian Foreign Minister, and the Russian Ambassador. That meeting after President Trump fired James Comey and it was at that meeting that Trump told the two Russian officials that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation and because Comey would not say that Trump or his campaign was not a target of the investigation, something he later also admitted in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. Trump’s motive for firing Comey was also confirmed by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. We also learned that Trump revealed classified information to the two Russian officials at this meeting that was so secure that its revelation has had an impact on the willingness of allied nations to share intelligence with the United States.
Taking all of that into context, it’s not surprising that Trump would have told Lavrov and Kislyak that he didn’t care about Russian interference in the election. That has been his position all along. The fact that he admitted it in front of two of the men who were no doubt involved in the operation in some respect is a feature, not a bug.