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'Washington Post' Journalist Reports Trump Hid Details Of Meetings With Putin


The New York Times and The Washington Post are reporting startling new details about President Trump and Russia this weekend. The Times revealed Friday that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether or not the president was working on behalf of Russia against American interests. And last night, The Post said that the president has hidden details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the last two years. Greg Miller is reporting that for The Washington Post. And he joins me now. Good morning.

GREG MILLER: Hey. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Greg, let's begin with what you highlight as the extraordinary behavior after a meeting between Putin and Trump in Hamburg, Germany. Trump took possession of the interpreter's notes. Why does that stand out? And how did U.S. officials come to know about this?

MILLER: So the officials learned about it because there were officials in his own White House and administration who met with or tried to meet with the interpreter back at the hotel. They wanted more detail about what had happened in Trump's meeting with Putin. This was his first real sit down with the Russian leader. And so they were trying to get as much detail as possible. And the interpreter tells them, the president told me I'm not allowed to talk about what happened in there and also took my notes.

And, you know, this is just an extraordinary thing because, I mean, what Trump - this is consistent with a pattern for Trump of concealing details of his conversations with Putin since coming off - since coming into office.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's fair to note, though, that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in that meeting with Trump.

MILLER: Yes. Yes, that's true - in that initial meeting, although he was excluded from subsequent meetings. And I mean, this is just at odds with how presidents have conducted diplomacy for decades and decades in the United States. I mean, every president in our lifetime has relied on aides to take comprehensive notes of any meeting with the Russian leader because they're such high-stakes meetings, because they want a record of what happened. They don't want there to be any doubt about what transpires in these meetings.

But Trump has just gone in a completely different direction. And it's remarkable also because, of course, Trump came into office in a very different way than other presidents with this cloud over him - this Russia cloud, as he calls it himself - because of Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was it worrying to the people around him? I mean, did they find that this was behavior that they considered unusual?

MILLER: Yeah, really alarming, really concerning - I mean, there were objections to him meeting with Putin to begin with from many people on his staff. They didn't understand why it was necessary to have these meetings let alone to have a closed - these closed-door meetings that go on for hours with no meaningful record of them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now, remember. This is a president who has had embarrassing details of conversations with world leaders leaked right out of the gate. I'm thinking of his call with the Australian prime minister, for example. So might it not make sense that he'd react by being especially sensitive to secrecy?

MILLER: And that's something White House officials said - right? - is that he was really concerned about leaks, embarrassing leaks, early in his administration of his conversations with foreign leaders. But I mean, he's the president of the United States. And I mean, what - I mean, aside from sort of classified or very sensitive conversations, I mean, he's taking steps that suggest that there are things that are being discussed here he doesn't even want his own staff to hear about or to understand.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Greg, last night, the president called into Judge Jeanine Pirro's TV show. The two are friends. And she asked him directly whether or not he was working for Russia, which is pretty extraordinary to have to ask that question of a sitting U.S. president. What struck you about his answer?

MILLER: That he doesn't say no (laughter). I mean, he says it's an insulting question. It seems like it's just another instance in his presidency in which there's, like, a huge opening for him to try to change how he is perceived. And he doesn't do it. We saw this in Helsinki as well, where he was challenged sort of point-blank by reporters. Can you turn to the Russian president standing next to you and condemn what Russia did in 2016 and say that that's not going to ever happen again in the United States? And he couldn't do it. Time and again, Trump just can't take on these sort of challenges that would really alter the way we see him as president.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think the reaction will be? I mean, we are hearing from the Democrats that they might want to get more information about these meetings now.

MILLER: Yeah. I mean, I think it's just fanning interest in the Russian story again and the Russian investigation as I - I interviewed the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They plan to open an investigative subcommittee that's going to look at - specifically, at Trump's communications with Vladimir Putin.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Greg Miller of The Washington Post. Thank you so very much.

MILLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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