After formally announcing the opening of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Democrats intend to keep the investigation narrowly focused on Trump’s request that the Ukrainian president do him a “favor” by investigating his political rivals. But a Friday night report may force Democrats to rethink that plan: according to the Washington Post, during a 2017 meeting in the Oval Office with two top Russian officials, Trump said he was “unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries.”
Trump reportedly said this to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the already infamous May 10, 2017 meeting where he remarked that he’d relieved “great pressure” by firing his “nut job” FBI director James Comey a day earlier, and shared highly classified information that exposed an Israeli counterterrorist operation.(Earlier this month, CNN reported that this prompted U.S. intelligence to extract a high-level intelligence asset from Russia over concerns that Trump’s mishandling of intelligence would expose the spy.)
Pretty much everything Trump has done and said regarding Russian election meddling — from constantly tweeting that the investigation into the matter was nothing but a “Witch Hunt!” to suggesting in Helsinki that he trusted Vladimir Putin’s denials over the conclusions of his own intelligence officials — has left the impression that the U.S. president truly does not care about Russian attempts to aid him in 2016. But Trump telling the Russians directly, in the Oval Office, that he’s unconcerned about protecting the integrity of U.S. elections — and maybe implying that he wouldn’t mind if they did the same in 2020 — elevates the matter to a new level. As the Post reports:
White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.
As with the Ukraine scandal, Trump administration officials reportedly worked to conceal the records of his alarming remarks to the foreign officials. Three former officials told the Post that there was immediate concern about what Trump said in the meeting, prompting White House officials to limit access to a memo documenting the meeting to a small number of people with the highest security clearance. It’s unclear if, like the transcript of the Ukraine call, the memo was also placed into a computer system meant to handle especially sensitive classified information. According to the Post, “White House aides worried about the political ramifications if Trump’s comments to the Russian officials became public.”
In addition to contributing to the cascade of bombshell revelations fueling the impeachment push, this report raises several questions. First, why are we only learning about this element of Trump’s Russia meeting now, months after the unspectacular end of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation? Second, what other appalling, potentially impeachable things did Trump say to other foreign leaders, and what did the White House do to conceal them?