Alarmed by the lack of information from the White House on what was discussed in talks earlier this week between President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, lawmakers in both parties on Thursday demanded that the Trump Administration detail what exactly was agreed to by Mr. Trump in his talks in Helsinki, Finland.
“We have got to find out what the Russian Ambassador was referring to yesterday, when he said that important agreements were reached,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
“We shouldn’t be just guessing based on the statements of the Russian Ambassador, or based on the reports of what we hear in the media,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).
“What are they hiding?” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer added on the Senate floor. “What are they afraid of?”
For example, Putin reportedly told diplomats on Thursday in Moscow, that he and President Trump had discussed the idea of a referendum on the future of Crimea and Ukraine – but asked Mr. Trump to keep that offer quiet.
At a briefing in Moscow on Wednesday, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said that no ‘secret deals’ were made in the Trump-Putin meeting – but then, Antonov said in a television interview later in the day that, ‘important verbal agreements were made.’
“The meeting was important, intense, constructive and productive,” Antonov was quoted by the Russian TV network RT.
But with no joint statement from the two leaders after the Trump-Putin meeting, and no rundown of exactly what was discussed, lawmakers felt they were being left in the dark.
Those expressions of concern on Capitol Hill came as other arms of the federal government made clear they also did not know details of any Trump-Putin agreements as well.
At the Pentagon, reporters spoke via video conference with CENTCOM Commander, Gen. Joseph Votel, who said he had received no information from the White House on any future U.S.-Russian military cooperation in Syria.
Gen. Votel said there had been “no new guidance for me as a result of the Helsinki discussions as of yet.”
President Trump on Wednesday declared his meeting with Putin to be a ‘tremendous success,’ adding on Twitter this morning that he wants a second meeting with the Russian leader.
In a pair of tweets, Mr. Trump rattled off a list of items which he had discussed in the Putin meeting: “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.”
“There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems,” the President wrote, “but they can ALL be solved,” as he again attacked the press as the “enemy of the people.”
Some lawmakers were also demanding any notes from the woman who served as Mr. Trump’s interpreter during the meeting – but that option seemed unlikely.
One other discussion point between the two leaders drew additional bipartisan notice, as the Senate moved to go on the record against the idea of allowing Russia to question the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, as the White House faced stern criticism for not rejecting the idea out of hand.
“When President Trump called Putin’s offer, an incredible offer, he was incredibly wrong,” said Sen. Schumer.
“I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin,” said McFaul, who has been a prominent critic of Putin and President Trump.
But while Mr. Trump took lumps from some on Capitol Hill, others said the criticism had gone too far.
“Trump Derangement Syndrome has officially come to the Senate,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said on the floor.
While Paul said the President should tell Putin to “stay the hell out of our elections,” the Kentucky Republican said it would be shortsighted to not talk to the Russian leader.
“I would rather that we still have open channels of discussion,” Paul said on the Senate floor.
That seemed even more likely Thursday afternoon, as the White House announced that President Trump had asked his National Security Adviser to invite Putin to come to Washington – this fall – for another meeting.
The timing could be interesting – given all the controversy over Russian interference in 2016 – and the reluctance this week of President Trump to acknowledge concerns about a Russian repeat in the 2018 elections.
The announcement caught the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, by surprise.
At the Aspen Institute, Coats said he did not know the details of what went on in the Trump-Putin summit earlier this week – now it looks like there will be another meeting in just a few months.