- A number top US officials have reportedly been left in the dark on what President Donald Trump spoke about with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their private meeting in Helsinki.
- A former senior national security official said this potentially poses a danger if Trump made secret agreements with the Russian leader.
- Russia’s ambassador to the US on Wednesday claimed Trump made “important verbal agreements” with Putin.
- DNI Dan Coats on Thursday said he did not know what Trump and Putin discussed.
A number of key US intelligence, defense, and diplomatic leaders have reportedly been left in the dark on what President Donald Trump spoke about with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their private meeting in Helsinki on Monday.
This goes against standard protocol and is potentially dangerous if the president made secret agreements with the Russian leader, according to a former national security official.
Russia’s ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov on Wednesday claimed Trump made “important verbal agreements” with Putin, including on issues such as arm control and the conflict in Syria.
If such agreements were indeed made, it seems the top US officials tasked with carrying them out have not been informed.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, which is responsible for US military involvement in the Middle East including Afghanistan and Syria, said Thursday he had received “no new guidance as a result of Helsinki.”
Similarly, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Thursday said he didn’t know the specifics of what Trump and Putin discussed. Coats also said there was a “risk” the Russians recorded the private conversation between the two world leaders.
“I don’t know what happened in that meeting,” Coats said during an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “I think as time goes by – and the president has already mentioned some things that happened in that meeting – I think we will learn more. But that is the president’s prerogative.”
And learn more he did. In one startling exchange in that televised interview, he was surprised to learn the president had invited Putin to a second summit in the fall.
.@mitchellreports: "[Trump] was alone with [Putin] for two hours…Do you know what happened?"
DNI Coats: "I don’t know what went on in that meeting."@mitchellreports "Is there a risk that Vladimir Putin could have recorded it?"
DNI Coats: "That risk is always there." pic.twitter.com/gmqA7tHqDq
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) July 19, 2018
‘We are completely in the dark’
Meanwhile, a US ambassador in Europe with a strong knowledge of Russia reportedly told The New Yorker diplomatic officials have been told “nothing” about what occurred between Trump and Putin.
“We are completely in the dark. Completely,” the unnamed diplomat said.
Brian McKeon, a former National Security Council chief of staff under former President Barack Obama, told Business Insider the “normal practice” for meetings with foreign counterparts is for a note-taker, often an NSC staff person, to “try to create a verbatim record.”
The record is vital in case the other side has a different understanding or recollection of what occurred, as it “provides the means for the US side to rebut that country’s arguments,” McKeon said, adding that it also ensures the US can follow through on commitments made by the president.
McKeon said if the president does a one-on-one session as he did with Putin, it’s not necessarily “unusual” but added the “burden” of keeping a record and handing it over to the national security adviser is on the interpreter or the president. Phone calls have a different protocol and don’t present as many challenges.
The former Obama official said it’s not necessarily surprising Coats doesn’t have a record of what was said between Trump and Putin because it can take “several days” to compile and distribute. But he added that the larger question is whether Trump gave a readout to National Security Adviser John Bolton at all and if it was then transferred to anyone else.
“I should think that Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mattis know by now what occurred,” McKeon said. “But if they don’t, then it shows that POTUS either didn’t give Bolton much of a readout, or he and Bolton don’t trust their two most senior national security cabinet officers.”
The White House on Wednesday indicated there was no recording of the one-on-one interaction between Trump and Putin, CNN reports. Business Insider reached out to the White House for clarification on this matter, but did not receive an immediate response.
‘Evidently the Russians believe some kind of agreements were reached’
McKeon also said the “usual practice” after a meeting like Helsinki is for the NSC and the State Department to brief lawmakers as well as foreign allies in the aftermath. Concurrently, a cable would go out to foreign posts with guidance on how to move foward. “All the reporting I have seen suggests that has yet to occur,” McKeon said.
The “danger” here is that if Trump made private agreements with Putin, as the Russian government has claimed, then it seems he’s not informed people in the US government who “who ought to know,” McKeon added.
“The Russian readouts that I’ve seen, including Putin’s remarks in Helsinki, only scratch the surface, though Putin did say that Trump reiterated our view that the annexation of Crimea was illegal,” McKeon said.
“Antonov has said he’ll be knocking on doors at State and NSC to follow through, so evidently the Russians believe some kind of agreements were reached, but it may be exaggeration on his part.”
In the wake of the Helsinki meeting, some in Congress have called on Gross to testify about what was said. But Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, among others, opposes such a move over concerns it would inspire foreign leaders to avoid private meetings with US presidents in the future.