Trump says he’ll probably meet Putin “in not-too-distant future”
Developments on Day 424 of the Trump Administration:
Advisors to Trump: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”
Ignoring the warnings of his advisors, Donald Trump congratulates Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election.
Advisors put a section in Trump’s briefing papers, for the conversation with Putin, saying, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”, according to officials familiar with the phone call.
But Trump ignored issues around the election, including the Kremlin’s detention and harassment of potential opposition candidates, videos of ballot-stuffing, and reports of other measures to inflate turnout as a show of support for Putin, who officially won 76% of the vote.
Trump also refused to carry out talking points to condemn the March 4 nerve agent attack in southern England on a former Russian spy and his daughter, leaving them critically ill and a police officer in serious condition and affecting hundreds of people. Both the UK and US Governments believe Russian officials are “culpable” in the attempted assassination with Novichok, developed in the Soviet Union from the late 1970s and supposedly given up under chemical weapons conventions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump made no reference to Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election, including hacking, dissemination of stolen information, manipulation of social media, and claimed financial and political links with the Trump campaign.
News of Trump’s message to Putin came first from the Kremlin, which said, “Donald Trump congratulated Vladimir Putin on his winning the presidential elections.”
Trump described to reporters a “very good call” with Putin, for whom the US President has professed admiration. He said his congratulations were followed by discussion of arms control, Syria, and North Korea.
“We’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future,” Trump said. The Kremlin backed him up, “Special attention was focused on the issue of a possible top-level meeting,” and it claimed cooperation on “ensuring strategic stability and combating international terrorism”, emphasis on “concerted efforts to curb the arms race”, and — in a pushback on US sanctions on Russia — interest in boosting “economic cooperation, with a special focus made on the energy sector”.
White House Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there were no plans at this time for a Trump-Putin encounter.
It was unclear if Trump read his briefing notes, adminstration officials said.
However, one official said Trump did not consult the notes. Instead, a “senior White House official” said National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster spoke with Trump by phone before the call, but did not mention the issue of congratulating Putin.
Senator John McCain, who has often criticized Trump over foreign policy, rebuked the President on Twitter and in an on-line statement:
An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election. https://t.co/lcQTBi7CA1
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 20, 2018
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, who has maintained silence recently over controversies around Trump, spoke up to distance himself from the President:
The President can call whomever he chooses.
When I look at a Russian election, what I see is a lack of credibility in tallying the results. I’m always reminded of the election they used to have in almost every communist country where whoever the dictator was at the moment always got a huge percentage of the vote.
Asked whether the Trump Administration believes that Russia conducted a “free and fair” election, Press Secretary Sanders responded, “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them how they operate.”