House Democrats zero in on the president's talks with Putin — and whether Trump broke the law to conceal them
House Democrats investigating the administration have a long list of questions to pursue about President Donald Trump's actions in office and before his entry into politics. One of the most intriguing of these lines of inquiries led to a letter sent Monday by the chairs of the Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees: what exactly is the nature of Trump's communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin?
The letter from Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Eliot Engel (D-NY) asks the White House for a large swath of documents and records including:
• The substance of President Trump’s communications with President Putin, including any discussion between the two individuals—during in-person encounters and phone calls— on matters that are within the Committees’ jurisdiction;
• The existence and contents, if applicable, of any documents related to President Trump’s communications with President Putin;
• Whether any such communications have provided a basis for reconsideration, modification, or implementation of foreign policy;
• Whether President Trump or any person(s) acting at his behest or with his knowledge sought to conceal, obscure, or otherwise misrepresent the substance of those communications to other federal officials, departments, or agencies, and/or to shield President Trump from scrutiny by Congress or law enforcement; and
• Whether President Trump, or any person(s) acting at his behest or with his knowledge, failed to create records of, or in any way destroyed, suppressed, mishandled, or otherwise withheld any federal or presidential records, contrary to federal law, including the Federal Records Act and Presidential Records Act.
The letter noted that the House has previously requested basic information to about whether Trump destroyed records of his meetings with Putin, but that request was ignored. Because of this lack of response, the chairmen wrote, "we are now expanding our investigation."
In January, the Washington Post reported that Trump has gone to unprecedented lengths to conceal information about his meetings with Putin from those within his administration. Not only is this atypical, its the exact opposite of what presidents usually want because their aides can help shape policy and interpret foreign adversaries' actions when they are involved in these meetings.
And last year, the White House announced that it would stop the practice of regularly issuing readouts of phone calls between Trump and foreign leaders, which means the public has no idea how often he speaks with Putin by phone.
The committee chairmen note that Trump's bizarre actions with regard to Putin "raise profound counterintelligence and foreign policy concerns, especially in light of Russia's ongoing active measures campaign to improperly influence American elections." Indeed, in light of the Trump campaign's repeated coordination with Russian agents in 2016, and the president's efforts to interfere in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's campaign, his work to hide his communications with Putin looks downright sinister.