WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump told two top Russian officials that he was unconcerned about the country’s interference in the 2016 election during a 2017 Oval Office meeting, a remark that caused White House officials to tightly restrict access to his comments, The Washington Post reported Friday.
The Post, citing conversations with three former officials with knowledge of the matter, said Trump made the statement to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the same meeting in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with the foreign officials.
The former officials told the paper that a summary of the meeting was kept highly restricted to keep Trump’s comment from getting out to the public, the Post reported. According to the paper, Trump told the officials that he was unconcerned about Russia’s interference because the US “did the same in other countries.”
The White House’s handling of records of Trump’s communications with foreign officials has come under scrutiny in recent days after a whistleblower complaint about a call between Trump and Ukraine’s President and the remarkable steps aides took to keep the conversation from becoming public led to a House impeachment inquiry into the President’s conduct.
The Post said it was unclear whether the summary of the meeting was placed in the same highly secured electronic system that the whistleblower alleges held the phone call with Ukraine’s President.
According to the three former officials the paper spoke with, White House officials were especially concerned with Trump’s election interference remarks because it seemed to them that Trump was forgiving the Russians for interfering in the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller determined the Russians had interfered in the election and had worked to elect Trump, though there was no evidence the campaign conspired with the Russians.
CNN reported Friday that the White House’s effort to limit access to the President’s conversations with foreign leaders also 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, though like the 2017 meeting with the top Russian officials, it’s unclear whether White House aides took the additional step of placing the Saudi and Russian phone calls in the highly secured electronic system.