Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Allan Smith
Democrats said two bombshell reports from The New York Times and Washington Post regarding President Donald Trump and Russia have raised serious questions. Meanwhile, their Republican counterparts downplayed the new reporting and asked Americans to consider instead the president’s actions on Russia.
“You know, there’s so many questions raised,” Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin, this man who is a former KGB agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world, and tries his damndest to undermine our elections, why is this President Trump’s best buddy? I don’t get it.”
On Friday, The Times reported that Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey triggered a counterintelligence investigation into whether the president was working to advance Russia’s interests. The administration’s initial rationale for firing Comey was his handling of the investigation into 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, but Trump almost immediately connected Comey’s firing to the Russia investigation during a 2017 interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt.
Then on Saturday, The Post reported that Trump personally intervened to hide readouts of meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, such as the one-on-one meeting the two leaders held in Helsinki, Finland, over the summer. The Post reported that Trump went to “extraordinary lengths” to keep conversations with Putin under wraps, with current and former U.S. officials telling the publication that Trump went as far as confiscating notes from his interpreter and barring them from discussing details of the meetings with other administration officials.
Jan. 13, 201902:09
Trump and the White House pushed back on both reports, saying that the president has been much tougher on Russia than his predecessors.
On The Times report, Trump told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro on Saturday that the accusation of him being a Russian agent was “insulting.” Pointing to The Post story, Trump said he was not “keeping anything under wraps” and he “couldn’t care less” about transcripts of the interview being made public.
“Anybody could have listened to that meeting,” he said of the Helsinki meeting that only included Trump, Putin and translators.”That meeting is up for grabs.”
Democrats voiced a much different view of the matter.
“When he takes the interpreters notes and wants to destroy them so no one can see what was said in written transcript, you know it raises serious questions about the relationship between this president and Putin,” Durbin said.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that whether Trump had worked on behalf of Russia is “the defining question of our investigation and” special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
He added that he found it “curious that throughout that whole summer” when the investigations first began, “you had Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump.”
While Republicans pointed to sanctions put in place by the Trump administration, Warner said the Treasury Department had been “very slow” at actually implementing them.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said the FBI “had to have a very deep level of concern about the president” in order to take the step of opening a counterintelligence investigation into whether he had been compromised by the Russians.
Jan. 13, 201902:48
Republicans, meanwhile, pushed back strongly on the subtext of these two reports and echoed the administration’s rebuttal about being tougher on Russia than former President Barack Obama.
“You’ve seen time and time again with sanctions, with other things, President Trump standing up against Russia,” Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana said on “This Week.” “This whole idea of collusion, they’ve investigated this, the Mueller investigation’s gone on for over a year, they found no collusion between Trump and Russia.”
Looking at The Post’s story regarding documentation of his conversations with Putin, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said on “Meet the Press” that he thinks “it’s premature” for Congress to subpoena any records of those conversations.
On “State of the Union,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said Trump may have decided to bury the transcripts because he had previously been “burned by leaks of other private conversations.”
“This is not a traditional president,” Johnson said, “He has unorthodox means but he is president of the United States. It’s pretty much up to him in terms of who he wants to read into his conversations with world leaders.”