Yes, More Problematic Communications from Trump

Not surprisingly, there are other phone call transcripts and other communications that further complicate Trump's position.

“President Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office” by The White House

Yesterday, I asked in a post headline: Are There other Problematic Phone Calls? The question was rhetorical, insofar as, yes, there had to be other problematic phone calls. What I did not necessarily expect to have an answer as quickly as I did. Reporting since that post was written has raised issues about a variety of problematic communications, including phone transcripts that staff have gone to extraordinary length to keep secret.

Via CNN: White House restricted access to Trump’s calls with Putin and Saudi crown prince.

White House efforts to limit access to President Donald Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders extended to phone calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to people familiar with the matter.

Those calls — both with leaders who maintain controversial relationships with Trump — were among the presidential conversations that aides took remarkable steps to keep from becoming public.

In the case of Trump’s call with bin Salman, officials who ordinarily would have been given access to a rough transcript of the conversation never saw one, according to one of the sources. Instead, a transcript was never circulated at all, which the source said was highly unusual, particularly after a high-profile conversation.

The call — which the person said contained no especially sensitive national security secrets — came as the White House was confronting the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence assessments said came at the hand of the Saudi government.

It is not clear as to whether these calls were also stored in the special, code-word access computers as were the Zelensky transcripts.

While I am aware of the concerns over leaks in this White House, it is especially troubling that officials working for Trump found calls with Putin, bin Salmam, and MBS problematic and worthy of special attention.

In regards to the Saudis:

There were no transcripts made of the phone conversations between Trump and the Saudi king or crown prince to prevent leaks, both a former White House official and a source familiar with the calls told CNN. This is considered very unusual in how White Houses have dealt with keeping record phone calls with world leaders in previous administrations.

Typically, there would be several senior officials listening in to a call with an important foreign leader and then a transcript of the call would be circulated to those officials

The report notes, repeatedly, that the calls did not contain highly classified materials, suggesting that the sensitivity was political and the actions were undertaken to protect Trump from his own words.

The CNN report notes:

Officials from the past two administrations said it was unusual to transfer a transcript that doesn’t contain sensitive information into the code word computer system.

“In my experience you would never move a transcript to the code word system if it does not have any code word terms. If the president is classifying and declassifying stuff he doesn’t want to get out, that is an abuse of power and abuse of the system,” said Sam Vinograd, a CNN national security analyst who served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush.

Three other former National Security Council officials said they were unaware of calls that did not contain highly sensitive national security materials being moved into another location.

And there is also this, from WaPo: Trump says he raised Hunter Biden allegations with his China go-between.

In remarks to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations on Thursday morning, Trump said he discussed Biden’s China work with Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of the investment company Blackstone.

“I was with the head of Blackstone . . . Steve Schwarzman,” Trump said, according to a video of the remarks obtained by The Washington Post. After alleging that Hunter Biden got $1.5 billion from the Chinese, Trump said he asked Schwarzman, “Steve, is that possible?” Trump said Schwarzman asked, “Who got that?” and Trump responded, “Biden’s son.”

Now, this is not quite as bad as the Ukraine call, as it is Trump speaking to an American who has acted as an envoy to China. Still, it is Trump trying to solicit, in the context of negotiations with a foreign government, dirt on a political rival making it still extremely problematic.

I will reiterate what I said about the Ukraine call yesterday: if Hunter Biden engaged in unethical or illegal actions, I have zero problem with him being investigated. To date, I have not seen any evidence of such. The only issue is the general problem, as discussed by James Joyner, of his obvious exploitation of his last name. But, again to reiterate: there are processes, functions, and whole bureaucracies that exist for legitimate investigationss (all of which require, you know, evidence). Having Trump seek to send a representative on a fishing expedition is an abuse of power.

Schwarzman, according to Trump himself, seemed to understand the inappropriateness of the request:

Trump said he asked Schwarzman how that could happen, and the executive responded: “Maybe I shouldn’t get involved, you know it’s very political.”

Although Shwarzman’s spokesperson denies the conversation took place:

Schwarzman declined to comment. His spokeswoman, Jennifer Friedman, said in a statement that “Steve never spoke to the President about Joe Biden or his family, nor has he had any conversations with the Chinese about Biden or his family.”

On the outer orbit of this behavior, but still extremely relevant, is this report from the NYT: N.R.A.’s LaPierre Asks Trump to ‘Stop the Games’ Over Gun Legislation in Discussion About Its Support

President Trump met in the White House on Friday with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and discussed prospective gun legislation and whether the N.R.A. could provide support for the president as he faces impeachment and a more difficult re-election campaign, according to two people familiar with the meeting.

During the meeting, Mr. LaPierre asked that the White House “stop the games” over gun control legislation, people familiar with the meeting said. It was not clear whether Mr. Trump asked Mr. LaPierre for his support, or what that support would look like.

LaPierre, as the article goes on to note, disputes this characterization of the meeting.

I will admit that the notion that a lobbyist might make policy demands in the context of potential support for a politician is not shocking, nor may even especially problematic (depending on how the interchange went down).*

However, given what Trump is facing in the Ukraine scandal, it is beyond remarkable that he would be willing to put himself into yet another conversation about political quid pro quos during the week that just happened. It underscores his poor judgment (to put it kindly) and it adds credence to the charges that are building against him.

It is as if he doesn’t understand how things work, and to the degree that he does understand, he doesn’t think that the rules apply to him.

(And to be clear, he doesn’t and he doesn’t).


*Side note: the NRA’s connection to Russia were also in the news this week. Via CNN: Top NRA officials knew Russians were using ties to NRA to establish connection with next US President, report says.

In 2015, Russian national Maria Butina, who last year pleaded guilty to conspiracy as an unregistered foreign agent, tapped her political operative boyfriend Paul Erickson to help her convince a top NRA official to come to Moscow, according to the committee report made public Friday.

“Russia believes that high level contacts with the NRA might be the BEST means of neutral introduction to either the next American President OR to a meaningful re-set in relations with the Congress under a (God forbid) President Clinton,” Erickson, a GOP political operative wrote to Peter Brownell, the chief executive of a firearm accessories company and, at the time, the incoming president of the NRA. “This simple good will trip would have enormous diplomatic consequences for a future U.S. / Russia bilateral relationship to the world.”

Yes, the report is from a minority report by Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee, so can be taken with a grain of partisan salt. Still, Butina’s connection the NRA is well established, so maybe keeping the NRA at arm’s length at the moment would’t be a bad a idea.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Jax says:

    Well, if we’ve learned anything about Trump so far, it’s that he fully embraces the bad idea, then doubles down on it, then tries to present it as a good idea, and blames everybody else when it blows up in his face.

    I suspect the impeachment inquiry will widen in scope the more they find out. He just can’t help himself.

    I am curious if Mueller knew about them transferring those transcripts to the other server. Is that something he could’ve had access to, if he knew they were there? It seems like conversations with Putin would’ve fallen under the purview of what he was investigating, wouldn’t they?

    4
  2. Jen says:

    […] it is beyond remarkable that he would be willing to put himself into yet another conversation about political quid pro quos during the week that just happened.

    To begin with, he is not a very bright man.
    He is feeling cornered and desperate.
    He has no moral center, and has always, always been able to escape from hard places before.

    I doubt this is the last time he does something this stupid. I keep thinking this is like a more malevolent version of this A Fish Called Wanda scene.

    7
  3. Gustopher says:

    @Jax:

    I suspect the impeachment inquiry will widen in scope the more they find out. He just can’t help himself.

    At some point, they will have to just vote on the work-in-progress. He commits impeachable offenses at such a rate that they would never be done preparing articles of impeachment if they were going to be thorough.

    8
  4. Jen says:

    @Gustopher: I said this in another thread: they should keep this inquiry narrow, but allow all of the committees to continue doing their work.

    Let him get impeached multiple times.

    4
  5. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    He has no moral center, and has always, always been able to escape from hard places before.

    Yes, and he can easily escape from this one, fully on his terms, too.

    I mean, he can resign on Twitter, right?

    3
  6. Bob@Youngstown says:

    A “expert” commentator (from CNN, I seem to recall) made the emphatic statement that these phone calls “would never have been recorded (in real time), that is, there are no tapes to be secreted”.

    Is that accurate?

    And if it is an accurate statement, one wonders if the reason to avoid an real time voice recording is to….. prevent any possibility of discovery.

    So, in lieu of a real time voice recording of the words, tone, inflection etc of the President, several staffers are tasked with attempting to transcribe (a la a court reporter) in real time what they thought they heard.

    Is there any good reason to NOT have an actual recording, in addition to transcribed notes?

    1
  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am shocked, shocked I tell you…

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    Is there any good reason to NOT have an actual recording, in addition to transcribed notes?

    Richard Nixon could give you several.

    5
  8. michael reynolds says:

    How many times have I asked our resident #Cult45 worshippers for an innocent, plausible explanation for why Trump refuses to have other Americans in the room when he meets with Putin? And there’s never an answer.

    Trump is endangering our national security. He betrays this country regularly. He serves the interests of anyone who looks like a source of income. He is harming this country. He must be removed from office. He should be in prison.

    13
  9. Scott F. says:

    Trump (and his advisers in the WH) released the Ukraine call transcript absolutely convinced that it would be exculpatory. Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know about the transcripts these people thought necessary to hide?

    11
  10. Teve says:

    @Scott F.: yup.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scott F.: Considering they thought the transcript would be exculpatory when it is in fact quite damning, the only thing I can surmise is that they are complete idiots. Given their level of intelligence it is entirely possible the others have nothing truly bad in them, other than showing that our president is a lickspittle of the first order.

    3
  12. Teve says:

    Philip Klein, editor of the Washington Examiner, says that if Trump is impeached then Republicans will impeach the next Dem President. Take that, libtards!

    link

    1
  13. Jax says:

    @Teve: Their memories are so short, they don’t even remember they spent 8 years trying to impeach Obama.

    8
  14. Kari Q says:

    I suspect that is whythat few Republican Senators were willing to talk about the phone call. Most of them realized there was probably more and wanted to know just how much they were going to have to defend before they went on record.

    5
  15. Teve says:

    @Jax: And several republican senators said they wanted to impeach Hillary immediately.

    Some late night show mentioned the other day that Fox News talked about impeaching Obama at least five different times.

    6
  16. James Knauer says:

    Oh dear. The President of Ukraine is now called “Monica Zelensky” back home.

    https://qz.com/1717059/ukraines-president-is-being-dubbed-monica-zelensky-at-home/

    Everything the orange menace touches withers and dies.

    9
  17. Kari Q says:

    @James Knauer:

    I feel for both Zelensky, who was just doing what he had to do to advance the best interests of his country, and Monica Lewinsky, who doesn’t deserve to be dragged into another presidential scandal.

    29
  18. @Kari Q: Indeed on both counts.

    3
  19. Gustopher says:

    @Kari Q: At least there’s a good pun. And, it helps me remember Zelinsky’s name.

    It’s also unfair to Bill Clinton, because Clinton was not threatening Lewinsky.

    But, a good memorable pun.

  20. Jay L Gischer says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I dunno, maybe they decided they didn’t need to care what any Democrat thought, they just needed to reassure Republican voters, and for that, Fox News has their back, will report that “there’s no quid pro quo” and then switch to discussing how terrible Democrats are.

    Which is kind of what happened, right?

  21. DrDaveT says:

    it is beyond remarkable that he would be willing to put himself into yet another conversation about political quid pro quos

    I think Trump genuinely does not understand any other kind of negotiation, nor how it could be possible that some kinds of this-for-that are legal and others aren’t. He doesn’t do nuance.

    4
  22. Jax says:

    @Teve: That’s one of those comments that needs more than a simple “like”. I seem to remember every week being “impeachment week” with the Republicans during Obama. 😉

    2
  23. CSK says:

    @DrDaveT: Remember when he agreed to a clean bill without knowing what a clean bill was?

    3
  24. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    Is there any good reason to NOT have an actual recording, in addition to transcribed notes?

    So, let’s talk about that for a sec…

    I used to work for Cisco, where I was an expert in IP Tel and IP Contact Center.

    There is this thing called “lawful intercept“.

    In the old days, a line would be tapped and sent to a recording device that had a tape. You are likely familiar with the idea, as it’s the way that you see calls being tapped in detective shows.

    But today, it is a way to capture IP packets of the IP based phone call (and yes, that’s a Cisco IP phone on the POTUS desk) and record them to a wav file or even transcribe them verbatim using voice rec software. (see NICE or Nuance for voice recording software).

    There is no longer a tape that would be requested, but an audio file and transcript that would be available.

    While I cannot say if both are available in the White House, I would be shocked if it wasn’t… as it is just plain easy to set up, especially with the Government’s requirements of POTUS record keeping for posterity.

    (Don’t believe me? Google POTUS tears notes taped back again.)

    To be given a memo summary of what someone in the room heard on the call… well, we are just being handed a some serious B.S. compared to what is likely available.

    Hopefully the House/Congress will ask for a copy of the VoIP server audio files, specifically the calls with foreign leaders. THEN there will be a WHOLE LOTTA calls from which they can pick.

    Maybe I’m being a pessimist, but I would not be surprised if some of those audio files are likely missing.

    8
  25. Jen says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    Yes, the call was transcribed using voice recognition software.

    When I first read that, my immediate thought was that there has to be a file in order for that to have happened.

    7
  26. An Interested Party says:

    I dunno, maybe they decided they didn’t need to care what any Democrat thought, they just needed to reassure Republican voters, and for that, Fox News has their back, will report that “there’s no quid pro quo” and then switch to discussing how terrible Democrats are.

    It’s quite dangerous to live in a bubble, especially when it involves politics…

  27. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: Without the benefit of actual expertise, what you describe is exactly what I was supposing, that there is (or was) an audio file.

    Let’s suppose that the TELCON that was released by the WhiteHouse is used as evidence in an impeachment proceeding, I would expect that an alert lawyer would attempt to “impeach” that evidence based on the cautionary note at the bottom of the first page.

    Letting my imagination run wild … (and implicitly giving more credit to the president’s advisers than is due) …. suppose the TELCON itself is a hoax to entice launching an impeachment proceeding and trial. ( b/c it seems to me that DJT is actually goading the House to prepare Articles of Impeachment). Then at trial, in the Senate, the president produces an authentic audio file that is exculpatory . NIGHTMARE

    1
  28. @Bob@Youngstown: That requires a level of sophistication, planning, and discipline that I cannot see out of this WH (or, really, any WH, but especially not this one).

    If they were playing such games, just releasing a less damning transcript this week would have derailed Pelosi and left the Dems with egg all over their faces.

    7
  29. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    As to level of sophistication, I agree.
    But to make the hoax work, the TELCON needed to be sufficiently damning, not less so.

  30. @Bob@Youngstown: I agree your hoax scenario would be worse.

    Still, the shorter term hoax I noted would still have really gummed up the works.

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jay L Gischer: The biggest problem with that is Republicans alone aren’t enough to ensure reelection. So you are probably correct.

    2
  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Cris Ericson: Whoooowee. Someone left the looneytune barn door open again.

    6
  33. Jax says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I wonder what flavor the kool-aid is….and how much LSD it’s been dosed with?

    1
  34. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jax: It appears to have been infected with Mad Cow disease.

    1
  35. Teve says:

    Maybe Cris is really Larry Klayman:

    FORMER DOJ LAWYER CONVENES ‘CITIZENS GRAND JURY’ TO INDICT U.S. OFFICIALS

    2013 Fall Issue

    In a recent column published on the far-right RenewAmerica blog — one of several online publications to which he contributes — Larry Klayman denounced “Muslim-in-Chief, Barack Hussein Obama, and his leftist Jewish government comrades and partners in crime.”

    Soon after that, Klayman, a Jewish convert to Christianity who says his heart “throb[s] in shame” over the crimes of the “felonious” liberal Jews who have committed “the moral equivalent of ethical and religious bankruptcy” by aligning themselves with the Obama administration, convened a “citizens grand jury” to indict President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and other officials for supposed misdeeds against the American people.

    Klayman should know better. A former prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, he once worked on cases whose outcomes actually mattered. Today, though, he’s best known for filing lawsuits against the likes of Fidel Castro, Osama bin Laden, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton and Facebook’s
    Mark Zuckerberg.

    Ridiculous lawsuits are nothing new for Klayman. As the head of Judicial Watch, an ardently self-righteous and ultraconservative nonprofit organization, he sued the Clinton administration more than a dozen times, complaining among other things that special prosecutor Kenneth Starr wasn’t aggressive enough in pursuing the administration.

    Convening so-called citizens grand juries is a newer hobby for Klayman, one he’s taken to with gusto. In 2011, after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” he declared his intention to get citizens to “indict” Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan for supposedly violating their oaths of office. In a typically self-aggrandizing press release, he said his power to convene this body stemmed from the Fifth Amendment, which, according to him, was designed to “hold corrupt judges and politicians accountable under criminal laws, thereby hoping to avoid another revolution as occurred in 1776.”

    Elsewhere, using language and logic taken right out of the antigovernment “sovereign citizens” movement, Klayman has contended that citizens grand juries are a “common law” right that predates the Magna Carta. These days, as the former DOJ official knows all too well, real grand juries are convened only by prosecutors officially empowered to do so. Members of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement who believe themselves exempt from the confines of established legal procedure frequently use pseudo-legal “common-law courts” to indict “enemies” and adjudicate cases
    among themselves.

    Klayman’s May indictments accuse the president and other officials of involuntary manslaughter related to a deadly attack on Navy SEALs that followed the identification of SEAL Team 6 as the unit that killed Osama bin Laden, and of endangering national security by telling reporters about U.S. capacity to carry out Internet attacks. They additionally target IRS officials for allegedly singling out conservative groups for extra scrutiny, and Roberts for not somehow forcing Kagan to recuse herself from certain Supreme Court deliberations.

    Klayman’s is not the first bogus “citizens grand jury” to indict the president. In 2010, Pastor James David Manning of Harlem’s ATLAH World Ministries Church organized an entire “trial” after members of an organization called American Grand Jury “indicted” Obama for supposedly conspiring with Columbia University, the president’s alma mater, to conceal the “fact” that the president is not a natural born citizen and is therefore ineligible for office.

  36. CSK says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: @Jax:

    Cris Ericson is a woman from Vermont running for Congress.

    1
  37. @OzarkHillbilly: What is it with these types who write their posts in a format that visually looks like a poem? It happens all the time.

    It must be a weird cut and paste, but it just amps up the unhinged nature of the rant.

    5
  38. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Ms. Cris Ericson:

    Why haven’t citizens marched into the U.S. Capitol
    and arrested Adam Schiff
    under the authority of citizens arrest? [emphasis added]

    To quote Captain Planet:

    The power is yours. [emphasis in text]

  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: What is it with these types that when they try to present their rants so that they visually look like poems, those poems never scan?

    2
  40. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: It’s free verse, I suppose.

    1
  41. Joe says:

    @Steven L. Taylor; Just nutha ignint cracker; CSK:
    I wasted an entire minute looking for a rhyme scheme.

    1
  42. Moosebreath says:

    @CSK:

    ” It’s free verse, I suppose.”

    Well, that’s what you get for expecting it to be free. If she charged for the verse instead of us expecting a handout, she would have to make it more coherent.

    /sarcasm

    3
  43. CSK says:

    @Moosebreath: 😀

  44. Matt says:

    @Joe: Indeed there is no rhyme nor reason in that post….

    Anyone know wtf they were trying to talk about?

  45. Jax says:

    @Matt: I’m not sure, but if her and Paul L ever hook up on a Qanon dating site, we’re in trouble.

    1
  46. Moosebreath says:

    @Jax:

    “I’m not sure, but if her and Paul L ever hook up on a Qanon dating site, we’re in trouble.”

    I will demur, as it would be like a wonderful bit of invective: It was very good of God to have Macaulay and Mrs; Macaulay marry each other, so they could make each other miserable instead of two innocent people.

  47. Jax says:

    @Moosebreath: Except they’ll be giving us Qanon poetry, in tongues. Like, as a pair. Think Romeo and Juliet, only puked onto our comments section. My little scroll bar only has so much “fast” in her, man, I don’t think I can scroll past fast enough without ingesting some….and then my brain will be like “Whuuut……are they trying to say?”