As a top lawyer for Donald Trump suggests some members of the president’s 2016 campaign worked with Russians, two top Senate Democrats want answers about whether the commander in chief properly handled sensitive information about his contacts with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Rudolph Giuliani told CNN Wednesday evening that he has “never said” there was zero collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russians. Shifting his stance yet again about what happened during that election cycle, Giuliani now says he stated only that the president himself never colluded with Russians or was involved in any potential actions by others that might constitute a crime.
“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani claimed.
“I have not,” he said during a verbal back-and-forth with host Chris Cuomo. “I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.”
Hours before Giuliani appeared to foreshadow that another shoe could soon drop in the Justice Department’s Russia election meddling investigation, Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Armed Services ranking member Jack Reed of Rhode Island pressed Trump to describe how he handled notes and other materials directly related to his one-on-one contacts with Putin.
The two veteran senators wrote to Trump in a letter demanding his “immediate confirmation that you have preserved all records, including notes, transcripts, documents, and communications related to any meetings, telephone calls, or any other interaction that you have had with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin since being sworn into office in January 2017.”
The duo also requested the president “preserve all such records going forward.”
Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported Trump has taken steps to conceal details of his meetings and phone conversations with the Russian president, including confiscating a translator’s notes after one in-person meeting in 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. That report also stated that there are no records, even in classified form, of what the two leaders discussed during five meetings since Trump took office in January 2017.
Trump on Monday called that story “fake news,” contended the matter is no big deal, and offered a verbal readout of the Hamburg talk.
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“That was a very good meeting. It was actually a very successful meeting,” Trump said. “We talked about Israel. We talked about the pipeline that Germany is paying Russia a lot of money [for]. I don’t think [the pipeline is] appropriate, and we talked about that,” Trump said. “But I have those meetings, one-on-one, with all leaders, including the president of China, including Prime Minister of Japan Abe. We have those meetings all the time. No big deal.”
What Trump has discussed in these extraordinarily secretive discussions with Putin has come into the spotlight this week following a bombshell New York Times article published Friday detailing a FBI counterintelligence probe into whether Trump was working for Russia and against U.S. interests.
Federal investigators became concerned about Trump’s actions around the time, and after, he fired former FBI Director James Comey in 2017. It included admitting publicly that he did so with the Justice Department’s broader Russian election meddling investigation on his mind, the Times reported.
Menendez and Reed also expressed concerns about that article, saying it shows it is in “the national security interests of the United States that any record of these conversations be preserved and immediately provided to Congress.”
“Moreover, it is critical that the American people, through their representatives, understand what has transpired during your interactions with Vladimir Putin,” the ranking members wrote. “In light of the continuing level of secrecy shrouding your interactions with the Russian leader, we insist that the interpreters for these interactions, especially the individual who interpreted for your meeting with President Putin in Helsinki, be made immediately available for interviews with the relevant committees in Congress.”
Some legal experts say Trump might be able to invoke executive privilege to block the translators from being forced to appear before congressional committees. Those kinds of legal battles likely will define large parts of the next two years, with Democrats now in control of the House and already looking into many aspects of Trump’s 2016 campaign and presidency.
As those legal fights play out, Democratic members are increasingly clear they have major doubts about this remarkable comment from the sitting president while standing outside the White House on Monday: “I never worked for Russia.”
The White House has yet to respond to a request for comment on the senators’ requests.