Republican leaders in Congress sent a message to the White House on Friday to disclose what was discussed in the private meeting between the president and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The concern is that Putin is using Trump to try to tear apart the NATO alliance.
All week Russian news services and officials have been discussing secret side deals that were made between Putin and Trump in private. Now the concerns have grown that the Kremlin is driving the conversation, leaving the U.S. to react to whatever Russia says and does.
What is upsetting to Congress, the military and U.S. intelligence agencies is that they are completely in the dark about what was discussed in the meeting so they can’t react to whatever comments come out of Russia. Trump has not been forthcoming, so what was said between Putin and Trump is a total mystery.
Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and he thinks that in his role he should be kept informed. Instead, Corker says he has “no idea” what Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov was talking about when he said this week that there were “important verbal agreements” entered into between Trump and Putin.
Corker expressed much concern about rumors he has heard about the White House and the Kremlin “setting up a second Trump/Putin meeting so they can begin implementation” of these mysterious side agreements.
Other Republicans also said they were unhappy about the lack of transparency from the White House.
“I don’t know what happened privately, nobody does,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “The president needs to publicize whatever efforts he made to push back against Putin” in their private meeting, he added. “It’s not enough just to raise it privately because everyone is watching, including our allies, including the people of Russia, including our intelligence agencies,” he said.
Trump has done nothing but praise Putin in public and has not given any indication that in the private meeting he expressed any criticisms or concerns to the Russian president about interference in U.S. elections or anything else.
Ambassador Antonov told reporters several days ago that Trump and Putin reached “verbal agreements” on two highly controversial and difficult issues: Syria and arms control.
“The White House better get out in front of this before the Russians start characterizing this,” warned Trump critic Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “The Russians will use this.”
“There’s so little trust of this president, our president, among our allies,” he added.
U.S. security officials have known for a long time that one of Putin’s top foreign policy goals is to tear apart NATO. Members of Congress from both parties have also expressed their worries that Putin is using the Helsinki summit to worsen relations between the United States and its NATO allies.
Of particular concern is the status of former Eastern Bloc countries that were Soviet states. Putin is known to view these former Soviet satellite countries as still within Russia’s sphere of influence and is extremely unhappy about NATO adding more countries to its military alliance.
Flake said that recently he made a trip to Latvia where he saw an extensive Russian propaganda campaign to attempt to persuade the Baltic states that “NATO is weak” and “America is an unreliable ally.” These countries were all part of the Soviet Union and now are members of NATO.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also worried about what Trump may have promised Putin, especially after Trump’s disruptive performance at the NATO conference. McConnell went out of his way to assure European countries that Republicans in Congress place value on the NATO alliance and view Russia as an adversary.
“We believe the European Union counties are our friends and the Russians are not,” McConnell told reporters. “We understand the Russian threat.”
Democrats are also worried about what was promised in the private meeting. Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), a Democrat on the Foreign Relations committee, said “we shouldn’t be just guessing on the statements of the Russian ambassador about what was agreed to” at the summit.
And Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also said that the U.S. government translator of the Trump-Putin meeting should testify before Congress. Schumer and other senators also have requested that the White House turn over the translator’s contemporaneous notes.
Corker has also said he would like notes and testimony from the American translator who was present at the meeting with Putin.
Corker is not alone. The American people also want to know what Trump said to Putin in private. Trump seems to have forgotten that he is working for the American people and not just for himself. Congress is right to ask for more information about this meeting and should continue to do so until the information is made public.