WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee accused the White House of not being transparent about President Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders after the Kremlin version of a phone call this week with President Vladimir Putin differed from the Trump administration version.
“President Donald J. Trump of the United States and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation spoke today regarding Syria,” the White House said in a May 2 readout of the call. “President Trump and President Putin agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on for far too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence. The conversation was a very good one, and included the discussion of safe, or de-escalation, zones to achieve lasting peace for humanitarian and many other reasons. The United States will be sending a representative to the cease-fire talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 3-4.”
“They also discussed at length working together to eradicate terrorism throughout the Middle East,” the statement added. “Finally, they spoke about how best to resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Tuesday “it was a very constructive call that the two presidents had. It was a very, very fulsome call, a lot of detailed exchanges. So we’ll see where we go from here.”
The Kremlin readout of the call said the conversation “was businesslike and constructive” and included discussion of a bilateral meeting.
“A wide range of current issues regarding the two countries’ cooperation in the international arena was discussed, with an emphasis on future coordination of Russian and U.S. actions to fight international terrorism in the context of the Syrian crisis. It was agreed to bolster the dialogue between the heads of the two nations’ foreign policy agencies in an effort to find ways to stabilize the ceasefire and make it durable and manageable,” the Russian government said. “The aim is to create preconditions for launching a real settlement process in Syria. To that end, the Russian Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State shall promptly brief the countries’ leaders on any progress achieved.”
“The dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula was thoroughly discussed. The President of Russia called for restraint and an easing of tensions. It was agreed to organize joint work aimed at achieving diplomatic solutions and a comprehensive settlement of the problem,” the Kremlin added. “Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump agreed to continue their telephone contacts and spoke in favor of arranging a personal meeting during the G20 Summit in Hamburg on July 7–8.”
After being pressed on the content of the Kremlin readout, National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton told NBC News that the possibility of meeting was discussed.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) called it “outrageous that we have to resort to reports from the Kremlin to get full and accurate information about the substantive points of a diplomatic call.”
“While not always perfect, transparency used to be and should be a hallmark of the American presidency and an example the White House set for the world,” Smith continued in a Wednesday statement. “Now we have a president who limits access to the press, records of White House visitors, withholds releasable information about diplomatic calls, and praises leaders who are the polar opposite of transparent.”
“In an apparent emulation of those leaders he praises, President Trump is making deals with the Russian president that he will not reveal to the public. We should worry that once you see him do this, it is just the tip of the iceberg, because small omissions lead to big ones.”
Smith added that he was worried about “the media’s sense of relaxation about this issue, and others.”
“It should concern us if President Trump discussed how to create ‘safe zones’ in Syria with the same person who enabled Bashar al-Assad’s use of poison gas on innocent children and does not see a contradiction in that arrangement, nor with the potential pitfalls inherent in trusting someone who has an agenda inimical to American values,” he said. “This is not an issue we should continue to ignore in the coming months.”