Warner: We don't know what Trump and Putin discussed

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee bemoaned that the US government does not know what President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed last year at their summit in Helsinki, Finland.

Posted: Jan 14, 2019 9:20 AM
Updated: Jan 14, 2019 9:22 AM

A weekend of bombshells deepened the most intractable mystery of Donald Trump's presidency -- one that could eventually dictate his fate -- over his deference to Vladimir Putin and behavior that often favors Russia's goals.

Stunning revelations included a disclosure that the FBI opened a probe amid fears that Trump was covertly working for Moscow and detailed his "extraordinary" efforts to hide the content of his private talks with Putin.

The reports -- from The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post -- took intrigue about Trump and Russia to a surreal new level, even after two years of shocking developments borne out of Moscow's election meddling in 2016.

In an interview with Fox News on Saturday evening, Trump denied he was trying to conceal details of his dealings with Putin.

"I'm not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn't care less. I mean, it's so ridiculous. These people make it up," Trump said.

But the deeply reported accounts beg the question why Trump, given the knowledge that he and his campaign are being investigated for links to Russia, so often acts in a manner that sharpens suspicion about his ties to Moscow.

There is also growing concern in Washington about the consequences of a situation where the Kremlin knows exactly what went on in Putin's meetings with Trump around the world, but his own top foreign policy aides do not.

The situation is bound to raise new questions about Trump's past business relationship with Russia and whether the Kremlin has information that is being used to compromise the President and may explain what often appears to be efforts to obstruct the investigation into his conduct.

If, as the White House says, Trump has no compromised relationship with Russia, why does he go out of his way to hide his interactions with Putin? Does he perhaps not trust his own team not to leak details of their meetings?

The latest reports are already exacerbating a febrile atmosphere in Washington, which is polarized over a government shutdown triggered by a dispute over Trump's border wall that is now entering its fourth week.

The possibility that House Democrats could eventually seek to impeach the President has been a reverberating presence in the capital for months, and the latest reports about Trump and Russia will hardly calm the mood.

The Putin mystery

The White House bitterly attacks the media over its coverage of Trump and Putin, most recently in a pair of statements by spokeswoman Sarah Sanders over the weekend.

But neither the President nor his aides have ever offered an adequate explanation of why so much that the President says or does -- from his praise to Putin, his denigration of US intelligence agencies over their assessments of Russian election meddling and his hostility to US allies -- often favors the Kremlin.

While there is so far no proof that Trump is under Russia's influence, such a scenario -- though stunning, given that he is the President of the United States -- would help explain why his policies so often seem to favor Moscow.

This includes his hostility to NATO, his sudden announcement of a US withdrawal from Syria that the Kremlin supports, his recent comment that the Soviet Union was justified in invading Afghanistan in 1979 and his willingness to accept Russia's version of the election meddling allegations.

Trump's warmth towards authoritarian leaders, disdain for international organizations, support for Britain's exit from the European Union and coolness towards liberal, international democracy also help further Putin's goal of discrediting the political institutions and credibility of the West.

Even the chaos and political polarization Trump has fomented in America fits Putin's desire to see the world's top democratic powers discredited and in turmoil, and may be a lasting payoff of Russia's activity in 2016.

Some observers have seen such activity in itself as a form of collusion with Russia -- a hostile power -- in plain sight, even while Trump's team is under investigation for alleged campaign transgressions.

Trump under siege

The new developments follow weeks of damaging revelations and filings surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which has revealed repeated links between Trump associates and Russia at a time when the Kremlin was running a 2016 intelligence operation to put Trump in office and a pattern of lying about those contacts.

The President has responded to the weekend's staggering reports by going on the attack, again denying there was any "collusion" between his campaign and Russia in 2016 and reacting to the report that the FBI investigated why the President was seeming to act in ways that benefited Russia after he fired the bureau's director James Comey by alleging it is a symptom of corruption with the nation's preeminent law enforcement agency.

When asked on Fox News Saturday about the Times report, Trump said, "It's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked" and claimed that he had probably been tougher on Russia than any other previous president.

It's true that the Trump administration has taken some steps that fit into an authentically hardline policy towards Moscow. This includes sanctions against Russia for election meddling and approving the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine, a step the Obama administration did not take.

But Trump's own felicity toward Putin -- on show at the Helsinki summit last year -- often seems to undermine his own administration's policy.

In the coming days, Democrats will try to block a move by the administration to ease sanctions against Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Russian leader and is an associate of jailed former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Senior Democrats on Sunday painted the latest developments involving Trump and Russia as a grave turn in the investigation. They're readying a sweeping oversight effort into what happened in 2016, and Trump's personal and business relationships with Moscow.

"I think we're seeing these independent actions, even independent of Mueller, which is the lead-up and some of the rationale about why this investigation started and why so many Americans, like myself, have been concerned for so long," said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.

Warner also raised the case of Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate of Manafort who is regarded as a Russian intelligence asset. A botched legal filing last week by Manafort's lawyers revealed that the former campaign chairman had passed proprietary campaign data to Kilimnik.

Trump's legal team has played down the issue. But the big unanswered question is whether the President was aware of Manafort's behavior or whether he was acting alone.

There have been several other revelations that undermine the idea that there was no collusion between Trump associates in Russia. They include the conversations between former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia's ambassador to Washington during the presidential transition. The willingness of the President's son to meet a Russian lawyer in the hope of getting "dirt" on Hillary Clinton's campaign also fanned suspicion.

Republicans shrug off latest bombshells

Republicans, publicly at least, tried to downplay the latest developments.

"There is an incredible divide between Washington and the rest of the country when it comes to Bob Mueller and the Russia investigation," Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"The mainstream media, Washington, is obsessed with it. And when you get outside the Beltway, I don't find anybody concerned with this at all."

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson was not concerned at the implications of the Post report, which said Trump confiscated his interpreter's notes taken in his meetings with Putin and banned them from talking about what went on with other administration officials.

"This is not a traditional President. He has unorthodox means. But he is President of the United States. It's pretty much up to him in terms of who he wants to read into his conversations with world leaders. That's just the basic fact," Johnson said.

And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham strongly pushed back on the report that the FBI opened an investigation into why Trump was working in ways that seemed to benefit Russia.

"I find it astonishing and to me, it tells me a lot about the people running the FBI. ... I don't trust them as far as I throw them," Graham said on "Fox News Sunday."

The solidarity of the GOP senators was a sign, that for now at least, the new intrigue has not shaken Trump's hold on the Republican base over Russia -- a foundation tended daily by conservative media pundits who rarely let up their attacks on Mueller.

But, that is not a guarantee that the political ground will not shift when Mueller delivers his final report.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 667262

Reported Deaths: 12737
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion913541660
Lake48729891
Allen36175646
Hamilton32489398
St. Joseph30361514
Elkhart25536420
Vanderburgh21343382
Tippecanoe20240205
Johnson16485363
Porter16077281
Hendricks15955302
Clark12079182
Madison11810323
Vigo11699234
Monroe10440164
Delaware9899179
LaPorte9838201
Howard9127203
Kosciusko8600111
Bartholomew7531147
Hancock7471134
Warrick7456153
Floyd7269173
Wayne6661192
Grant6465158
Boone618691
Morgan6135129
Dubois5942112
Dearborn551570
Cass5489100
Marshall5456105
Henry544395
Noble513878
Jackson465967
Shelby463591
Lawrence4197113
Gibson405585
Harrison404065
Clinton397653
Montgomery391984
DeKalb388278
Miami358463
Knox357886
Whitley352438
Huntington350877
Steuben340455
Putnam334660
Wabash333976
Ripley328062
Adams326349
Jasper319343
White298553
Jefferson296574
Daviess286196
Fayette272756
Decatur271688
Greene262680
Posey261732
Wells259175
Scott252150
LaGrange242670
Clay241644
Randolph226577
Spencer219630
Jennings216944
Washington213327
Sullivan203839
Fountain202842
Starke190051
Owen184254
Fulton179937
Jay178828
Carroll176919
Perry174136
Orange171451
Rush165722
Vermillion161543
Franklin160135
Tipton150041
Parke140216
Pike128633
Blackford120727
Pulaski107844
Newton96832
Brown95340
Crawford92613
Benton92513
Martin80314
Warren76014
Switzerland7568
Union67510
Ohio54211
Unassigned0427

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 978471

Reported Deaths: 17501
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1130371251
Cuyahoga969331881
Hamilton739231067
Montgomery47536923
Summit40720831
Butler35859531
Lucas35802720
Stark29602826
Warren22593275
Lorain22218424
Mahoning19586551
Lake18564332
Clermont18541205
Delaware16614121
Licking15096194
Fairfield14653188
Trumbull14437424
Greene13664221
Medina13531237
Clark12394256
Wood11670170
Portage11140172
Allen10822216
Richland10376188
Miami10065194
Muskingum8244117
Columbiana8174210
Pickaway8096111
Tuscarawas8083232
Marion8021127
Wayne7939199
Erie6972146
Ross6178132
Geauga6118142
Hancock6032121
Scioto600988
Ashtabula6002154
Lawrence527886
Union516741
Darke5052116
Belmont5000137
Huron4862108
Jefferson4843137
Sandusky4800112
Washington475596
Seneca4738111
Athens466449
Mercer459781
Auglaize456682
Shelby442679
Knox4056105
Putnam400593
Madison395755
Fulton383461
Ashland383083
Brown375252
Defiance374088
Crawford360198
Logan357673
Preble354187
Clinton342755
Highland328551
Ottawa325471
Williams303568
Jackson292046
Champaign291149
Guernsey288945
Perry271348
Fayette270143
Morrow261637
Henry247961
Hardin247359
Holmes244497
Coshocton241156
Van Wert230357
Gallia223938
Adams218339
Pike217328
Wyandot212450
Hocking195154
Carroll182143
Paulding161134
Meigs136031
Noble129233
Monroe117637
Morgan102220
Harrison100731
Vinton76713
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 65°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
64° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 64°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 65°
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 65°
Lima
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 65°
Breezy, Warm Tuesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events