It’s difficult to imagine “an innocent explanation” for why Trump wants “to keep secret from his own government what he discusses or agrees to with Putin.”
From Talking Points Memo:
President Trump is insisting on meeting Vladimir Putin one on one, without any aides present, according to CNN. Trump appears to have a special affinity for private meetings with Putin. When the two met last year in Hamburg, Germany they met first with only Rex Tillerson present on the U.S. side. Trump and Putin later had an unscheduled meeting in which Trump met for roughly an hour with Putin and Putin’s English language translator. In other words, in the second meeting, no one from the U.S. was privy to what was discussed. The United States has no record or knowledge of what was discussed, other than what President Trump may have chosen to share after the fact.
In Helsinki, it appears (if I’m reading the CNN story right) that the two men will meet with translators, presumably one from each country. This is a little different. There would be one more person from the U.S. government: the translator. But a translator cannot be a notetaker in the same setting. So even though a U.S. translator would have some recollection of what was discussed, there would be no formal or detailed record.
Most expressed concerns about this frame those concerns around an unsophisticated Trump being coddled or buttered up by Putin into agreeing to something he shouldn’t. But this has always struck me as a polite way to hinting at a more obvious and sinister concern: why Trump apparently needs to keep secret from his own government what he discusses or agrees to with Putin. It is very hard for me to imagine an innocent explanation for this.
Government bureaucracies thrive on information and record-keeping. There are very good reasons for this. But it goes beyond the good reasons. It’s what powerful and complex states do, just like militaries plan for wars and intelligence agencies look to uncover secrets. Governments produce and keep records. You’ll remember that the day after President Trump fired James Comey he brought Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak into the Oval Office. In that meeting, he both shared top-secret U.S. intelligence with the two men and also trashed Comey as a “nutjob” who he fired to reduce pressure from the Russia probe. We know this because the U.S. government kept a record of the meeting (which is entirely normal), parts of which were eventually leaked.
That was an embarrassment for Trump. So it’s not altogether surprising he’d want to avoid such a record. More revealing to me is that he wants none of his own aides to witness the encounter either. Trump chooses his own top aides. He may not want transcripts or memos about his conversation circulating through various U.S. national security agencies (Pentagon, State, CIA, et al.). But it’s much less clear to me why he wouldn’t want even his closest and most trusted aides, people he appoints with no confirmation and who work at his pleasure, to know what was discussed. That is highly suspicious.