Russia has voiced hope that the U.S. administration wouldn’t publish private conversations between the two nations’ presidents, like it did with Ukraine. …
Asked Friday if Moscow is worried that the White House could similarly publish transcripts of Trump’s calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “we would like to hope that it wouldn’t come to that in our relations, which are already troubled by a lot of problems.”
Peskov added this helpful reminder about diplomatic protocols. The first rule of Heads of Government Talk Club is you don’t talk about Heads of Government Talk Club. And the second rule is …
The Russian spokesman emphasized that the publication of the Trump-Zelenskiy call is a domestic U.S. issue, but added that it was “quite unusual” to release a confidential call between leaders.
“The materials related to conversations between heads of states are usually classified according to normal international practice,” he said.
True, true, but just how concerned could Vladimir Putin really be about Trump releasing transcripts of their conversations? At more than one point Democrats in Congress did demand that Trump produce the interpreter’s notes of the conversation, back when Russiagate was still all the rage, but Trump wisely refused. The presumption has long been that Trump has more to lose in making his convos with Putin public, and given Tsar Vlad I’s iron grip on power in Russia, that’s almost certainly true no matter how benign the conversations might be.
You don’t have to be Ukraine to be worried about this precedent, however. Democrats might not have succeeded in exposing high-level talks with Russia, but this victory will likely embolden other “whistleblower” complaints about such conversations as a means to pry into what has always been a plenary executive authority to conduct foreign policy between heads of other nations. That concern is what drove Mike Pence to advise Trump to refuse to release the Zelensky transcript, the Wall Street Journal reported this morning:
MIKE PENCE privately counseled President Trump against releasing the rough transcript of the president’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart, but eventually sided with others in the White House arguing in favor of its release. The vice president raised concerns about the precedent the release would set, but ultimately fell in line behind Trump, who felt he had no choice but to release it. Trump told aides he felt the messaging had gotten away from the White House and that releasing the document was his only option in the battle for public opinion.
Both men were correct. Trump was right in the short term that the only rational way to rebut the soon-to-be-exposed whistleblower complaint was to release the transcript. In the long run, though, Pence will almost certainly be proven correct that this will enable end runs to expose sensitive conversations for Trump and future presidents, rendering presidents stripped of meaningful diplomatic strength.
This episode will do considerable damage. If it uncovered profound wrongdoing, it might well have been worth it — but so far it looks like just another attempt to seek revenge over a bitter election loss.