Democrats blast Trump over 'inappropriate' undisclosed conversation with Putin
Democrats say President Donald Trump’s previously-undisclosed second meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 Summit adds to a darkening cloud of suspicion surrounding the president’s relationship with Russia.
News reports revealed Tuesday that Trump and Putin spoke one-on-one for up to an hour during a dinner with other world leaders. Because the translator accompanying Trump at the event did not speak Russian, the two men reportedly used Putin’s translator to communicate.
The White House has downplayed this news, with Trump attacking the media on Twitter for reporting on the meeting. In a statement, the White House emphasized that the president spoke to many leaders during the course of the dinner, including Putin, and that there was no intent to hide the meeting.
However, Democrats allege that this is part of a pattern of obfuscation and omission of information about contacts between people associated with the president and Russians with ties to the Kremlin.
“It’s not the first time,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., recalling Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian officials earlier this year that Russian state media was allowed to cover but U.S. media was not.
He also questioned why Trump would communicate with Putin without his own translator or any national security officials present.
“Conversations at that level can make history and can change history,” he said. “The president needs to be careful to make certain that he doesn’t do something that could harm us from a national security basis. going it alone with a Russian translator is a dangerous proposition.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., called the undisclosed meeting “totally inappropriate, totally unprofessional,” particularly in the context of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor and ongoing questions about the president’s financial ties to Russian oligarchs.
“That’s not the way you conduct international diplomacy,” he said.
The last week has also seen a steady stream of new revelations about a June 2016 meeting attended by Trump’s son, Donald Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and top campaign official Paul Manafort at which they apparently expected to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Instead, Trump Jr. says the Russian attorney who showed up wanted to speak to them about adoption laws.
Since that meeting was first revealed, additional details have slowly trickled out about how many people were present, who they were, and what Trump Jr. believed it would be about.
“It just never stops,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev. “The story changes from minute to minute.”
Kushner’s presence and his repeated omissions on his security clearance paperwork continue to raise concerns among Democrats, some of whom are now calling for his temporary clearance to be revoked. The president’s son-in-law has reportedly amended his application to include 100 foreign contacts he left out of his initial filing.
“If Jared had done everything right from the beginning, this would never have been an issue,” said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who has asked the FBI to review Kushner’s paperwork and his wife Ivanka Trump’s.
“What did Ivanka know and did she fail to disclose things she should have?” he asked, noting that he once spent days filling out his own forms and consulted with his wife to ensure that nothing was left out.
“These aren’t public documents so all we can really do is ask the head of the FBI…just to review it and make sure that the law was obeyed,” Beyer said.
He argued that President Trump made his daughter’s fitness to hold security clearance an issue by assigning her so many important responsibilities. He added, though, that Trump himself ultimately has the authority to decide whether or not his family members are granted clearance.
The unanswered questions about Trump’s ties to Russia and the lack of candor from the White House in addressing the subject are likely to keep the issue in the headlines even if concrete evidence of wrongdoing remains elusive.
“The cover-up and the lack of transparency is the problem,” Titus said. “If we trusted the president, we might think it’s good that he’s talking to Putin, but since we don’t and he won’t admit it, we don’t know what’s going on.”