It has been more than a week since President Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and we still don’t know what the two discussed or agreed to. Trump’s secretary of state on Wednesday projected confidence that he knew what happened, but if that’s true, he’s among only a few.
Attempts to get details haven’t been fruitful for the news media, Congress and even some members of the president’s Cabinet.
Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats made headlines for admitting in an interview that he was still in the dark about Trump’s meeting. At the Aspen Security Forum, the nation’s top national security official said, “As time goes by — the president has already mentioned some things that happened in that meeting — I think we will learn more. But that is the president’s prerogative.”
It’s also the prerogative of the American people to want to know more about the exchange with the man who U.S. intelligence officials say oversaw Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
That was on display this week when, during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, multiple lawmakers asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for more details about the summit.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.): Are you 100 percent confident that you know everything that President Trump discussed with President Putin?
POMPEO: I’m very confident that I received a comprehensive debriefing from President Trump.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-N.J.): Did he tell you what transpired in the two-hour meeting?
POMPEO: I’ve had a number of conversations with President Trump about what transpired in the meeting. I was also present when he and President Putin both gave us a sense of what they discussed in the meeting that followed immediately after.
I think I have a pretty complete understanding of what took place in that meeting.
MENENDEZ: Did you speak to the translator who was at that meeting?
POMPEO: No, I haven’t.
It’s not surprising that Pompeo, who was a strong Trump supporter before joining the president’s administration, communicated confidence in his boss before Democratic and Republican senators, many of whom have been critical of Trump’s relationship with Putin. It is understandable and even makes sense that the former CIA director trusts Trump to relay all pertinent information to him.
But most of the senators didn’t share Pompeo’s trust, and the former lawmaker appeared frustrated, if not annoyed, by their questions. Although it’s fair to suspect that some of the questioning was politically motivated, it is also true that many of the senators requesting more information about the details of the meeting represent Americans who have questions.
The most recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that 50 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of his meeting with Putin. And nearly half — 47 percent — say that U.S. leadership in the world has gotten weaker under Trump.
Pompeo and other Trump supporters may be annoyed by questions from Democrats, Republican critics or the mainstream media, but those groups aren’t primarily responsible for the lack of confidence in Trump to stand up to Putin.
“It’s the president’s actions that create tremendous distrust in our nation, among our allies,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said at the hearing.
Trump’s comments about — and previous business dealings with — Russia have planted seeds of doubt in many Americans’ minds about his ability to prioritize their best interests over his own or Russia’s.
There probably is no way to end these questions from lawmakers — and perhaps more important, concern by the American public — as long as Trump continues to speak and behave in the friendly way that he has toward Putin and in the adversarial manner he has displayed toward special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and those who want the Russian president held accountable for his actions.