Top Republican lawmakers appeared unfazed Sunday by reports that President Donald Trump has “gone to extraordinary lengths” to conceal his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the last two years.
The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Trump has repeatedly sought to hide his interactions with Putin, often one of the main U.S. adversaries in international affairs. According to the story, Trump’s actions included “taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials,” such as former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
As a result, U.S. officials told the Post, there exists “no detailed record, even in classified files,” of Trump’s meetings with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years.
The unusual attempts at secrecy did not appear to concern a pair of top congressional Republicans, who downplayed the matter as part of an unconventional strategy employed by an equally unconventional president.
“This is not a traditional president. 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,” Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Johnson speculated that Trump felt “burned earlier by leaks of other private conversations” between him and other world leaders, prompting his effort to keep interactions with Putin from members of his own administration.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” similarly dismissed the Post report, arguing that Trump’s administration has been tough on Russia and that concerns about the president’s affinity for Putin are unfounded.
“I know what the president likes to do. He likes to create a personal relationship, build that relationship, even rebuild that relationship like he does with other world leaders,” McCarthy said.
Asked whether he’d like Congress to investigate the matter, including potentially calling the president’s translator to testify, McCarthy said, “I’d like the president to be able to build these relationships.”
A Democratic congressional leader on Sunday questioned why Trump has a habit of being friendly with Putin.
“Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin, this man who is a former KGB agent, never been a friend to the U.S., 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,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on ABC’s “This Week.”