It’s hard to tell who was more angry that President Trump didn’t keep records of some of his phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin: the Democrats or the mainstream media. There’s an argument to be made that it’s the Democrats since there are reports that they’re thinking about subpoenaing his Russian interpreter. But no matter who comes out on top in that contest, the reasons which have been suggested are consistently hilarious, ranging from suspicions that Trump is an employee of someone in Russia to the possibility that he’s a deep cover mole.
For a dose of reality, though, you can read this column from Marc Thiessen in the WaPo who expresses the same reaction I felt when the story first broke. Why would Trump have those records around when he’s constantly surrounded by leakers?
The Post’s report that President Trump “has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin” — including taking away an interpreter’s notes and instructing the person not to discuss what was said even with senior officials of his own administration — has raised hackles in Washington. Some have gone so far as to suggest this is evidence that the president is a secret Russian asset.
More likely it is evidence that the president feels he cannot trust those around him not to leak the details of his private conversations with foreign leaders. Why would he think that? Because he has repeatedly seen the classified details of those conversations leak to the media.
As Thiessen goes on to point out, Trump has plenty of history to draw on. There have been leaks to the media of transcripts of his calls to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and British Prime Minister Theresa May. The press isn’t angry about some lack of transparency or responsibility to inform the public of his communications with foreign leaders. They’re upset that they missed out on a juicy leak.
Some have tried to argue that the President’s Executive Privilege doesn’t apply to such calls. Perhaps not on paper, but do you think we’ve ever had the full details of most conversations between presidents and foreign leaders before the dawn of the age of the Full Media War on Trump? Who do you suppose was taking notes of the 2012 in-person conversation between Putin and Barack Obama when the 44th President was caught on a hot mic telling Putin he would have more “flexibility” after the election? Do you think anyone would have known about it if that mic hadn’t been on?
For that matter, are we expected to assume that every conversation held by any elected official is automatically fair game and should be fully aired to the public? I assure you that there are endless, daily conversations going on in the offices of Pelosi, McCarthy, McConnel, and Schumer that no doubt have plenty of juicy tidbits in them but you’ve never gotten wind of those chats.
Leaders have always spoken in private (when appropriate) to try to make deals or gain leverage. Not all of those efforts will bear fruit if they are broadcast on CNN a few minutes later. Whatever Trump and Putin were talking about, both of them obviously felt it was a conversation worth having. The cable news mavens are just upset that they couldn’t sort through the trash and try to find something else to make the President look bad.