Trump claims he has nothing to hide — so why is he going to such great lengths to make sure no one ever finds out what he discussed with Putin?
The White House on Thursday rejected a request from House Democrats to turn over documents pertaining to Trump's conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, arguing that such communication is off-limits to Congress, and therefore to the public as well.
In a letter sent to Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Adam Schiff (D-CA), White House counsel Pat Cipollone cited executive authority as his rationale for refusing to divulge any information about Trump's talks with foreign leaders, including Putin.
But the White House didn't just reject this specific document request — it also laid out an argument claiming that any presidential communication related to the "conduct of foreign affairs" is not subject to congressional oversight, and that no one can compel the White House to release any information pertaining to such communication.
"[S]ince the Founding, the Executive Branch has correctly and successfully asserted that information concerning the conduct of foreign affairs is, constitutionally, within the exclusive control of the Executive Branch and Congress cannot demand its disclosure," Cipollone wrote.
He also contended that "the law does not require the Executive Branch to provide Congress with documents relating to confidential diplomatic communications between the President and foreign leaders."
"The President must be free to engage in discussions with foreign leaders without fear that those communications will be disclosed and used as fodder for partisan political purposes," Cipollone added. "And foreign leaders must be assured of this as well."
Of course, what he didn't say is that the rationale for the document requests is not to obtain information for "partisan political purposes," but to ensure that Trump did not make any promises or give away any state secrets that could affect foreign relations or imperil national security.
Engel, Cummings, and Schiff — the chairs of the Foreign Affairs, Oversight and Reform, and Intelligence committees, respectively — sent the requests to both the White House and State Department in early March seeking documents and transcripts from interviews with senior aides and advisers related to an inquiry into Trump’s communications with Putin.
The request came after a January report in the Washington Post revealed that Trump had withheld details of his talks with Putin from top officials in his administration, including confiscating notes from an interpreter who was present during one of the meetings.
According to the Post, there is a lack of detailed records for at least five of Trump's face-to-face meetings with Putin.
A short time later it was revealed that Trump had also quietly met with Putin at last year's G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, without a translator or anyone from his administration present during the exchange. Beforehand, the White House had denied that any such meeting would take place.
This is not the first time congressional investigators have attempted to get more information on Trump's conversations with Putin.
Last year, House Democrats tried to get the White House to turn over documents related to Trump's one-on-one meeting with Putin in July that even Trump's own intelligence chiefs weren't briefed on afterward.
That meeting took place at the disastrous Helsinki summit, where Trump appeared to side with Putin over his own intelligence chiefs.
Republicans rejected that effort by House Democrats and opted instead to help the White House keep Trump's talks with Putin a secret.
In a statement responding to Thursday's White House letter, Reps. Cummings, Engel, and Schiff said the refusal to comply with the document request "continues a troubling pattern by the Trump Administration of rejecting legitimate and necessary congressional oversight with no regard for precedent or the constitution."
Despite the White House's claim that there is no precedent for turning over such documents, the lawmakers cited examples of previous presidential administration's complying with similar records requests, adding, "President Trump's decision to break with this precedent raises the question of what he has to hide."
"We will be consulting on appropriate next steps. Congress has a constitutional duty to conduct oversight and investigate these matters, and we will fulfill that responsibility," the lawmakers wrote.
For someone who claims that he has nothing to hide, Trump sure is going to great lengths to make sure no one ever finds out what he discussed with Putin — now or in the future.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.