House Democrats seek information on Trump and Putin communications
Three powerful House Democratic chairmen sent letters on Monday to the White House and the State Department requesting detailed information on communications between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the latest effort by House Democrats to investigate the administration and its relationship to Russia.
Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of California, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Eliot Engel of New York, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, signed the letters, which were sent to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The letters ask for the White House and the State Department to provide documents related to contacts between the US President and Putin as well as for interviews with personnel at the White House, the Executive Office of the President and the State Department with knowledge of those contacts.
The Democratic chairmen outline a wide range of topics related to communication between Trump and Putin that they are seeking information on, including whether the President or anyone acting on his behalf engaged in any attempt to “conceal,” “obscure” or “misrepresent” the nature of his contacts with Putin as well as if any of his communications with the Russian president have had an impact on foreign policy.
They write that they are seeking information on “the substance of President Trump’s communications with President Putin, including any discussion between the two individuals — during in-person encounters and phone calls — on matters that are within the committees’ jurisdiction” and “whether any such communications have provided a basis for reconsideration, modification, or implementation of foreign policy.”
The chairmen write that they also want to know whether the President “or any person(s) acting at his behest or with his knowledge sought to conceal, obscure, or otherwise misrepresent the substance of those communications to other federal officials, departments, or agencies, and/or to shield President Trump from scrutiny by Congress or law enforcement.”
CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.
The State Department confirmed through a spokesperson that it received the letters from the chairmen and said that while it “will work cooperatively with the committees” the department does not comment publicly on its “engagement with oversight committees.”
The wide-reaching request comes on the same day that Democratic House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler announced a sweeping investigation into the President’s campaign, businesses, transition and administration. As part of that investigation, the Judiciary committee on Monday sent letters to 81 people and entities — including the White House, the Justice Department, senior campaign officials, Trump Organization officials and the President’s sons.
The requests also come as special counsel Robert Mueller is soon expected to conclude his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Schiff, Engel and Cummings say they are giving the White House and State Department a deadline of March 15 to comply with their requests.
The letter asks for documents related to in-person meetings as well as phone calls between the President and Putin.
It also requests that the White House and State Department make individuals who have knowledge of those communications available for interviews, including “linguists, translators, or interpreters who participated in attended, or in any way listened in on President Trump’s in-person meetings with Putin, as well as President Trump’s phone calls with President Putin.”
The letters reference — among other events — the 2018 summit between Trump and Putin in Helsinki.
At the conclusion of the summit, the President sent shockwaves through Washington when he sided with Putin over US intelligence agencies by declining to endorse the US government’s own assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Standing next to Putin at a press conference, Trump said that the Russian President was “extremely strong and powerful in his denial.”
The press conference during which Trump defended Putin came after he spent about two hours in a room alone with Putin, save for a pair of interpreters.
What exactly the President and Putin discussed at that summit has long been the subject of questions from congressional Democrats. A few days after the summit, Trump’s own top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, said that he himself did not know what had transpired during the meeting between the President and the Russian leader.
The letters sent on Monday by Schiff, Engel and Cummings note that they also sent a letter to the White House last month asking for what they describe as “basic information about whether the President in fact destroyed records relating to his conversations with President Putin.”
The chairmen write that “the White House failed to provide any response to our inquiry,” and say, “As a result, we are now expanding our investigation.”