WASHINGTON — If U.S government officials get truly desperate for a good record of President Donald Trump’s Helsinki summit with his Russian counterpart last year, they might consider just asking the KGB-trained spy himself.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as an agent in Eastern Europe for 16 years after university, and would certainly have been trained in the use of surreptitious recording equipment, according to former U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials — who added that he may well have used that tradecraft in his two-hour one-on-one meeting with Trump.
“Putin is a former KGB officer first and the Russian president second. We can’t say with any certainty what he did in this instance, but seeking leverage over the world’s highest-value intelligence target would surely be something he would seek to do,” said Ned Price, formerly a CIA analyst and a National Security Council spokesman under President Barack Obama.
Eliot Cohen, who was a top State Department official under President George W. Bush, said there was no reason for uncertainty, given Putin’s background. “Of course he recorded it,” he said. “This is one more major breach of norms, and another example of dysfunctional diplomacy at work.”
Neither Trump’s White House nor his National Security Council responded to HuffPost queries about the possibility that Putin secretly recorded the meeting.
If Putin has an audio record of the meeting and the United States does not, that would provide Russia with a considerable advantage should a dispute arise over what was agreed to during that exchange. House Democrats, newly in control of that chamber, are discussing whether to demand that the U.S. linguist at that meeting come before the relevant committees to brief lawmakers on what was said.
The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Trump has refused to divulge what precisely he and Putin discussed at Helsinki as well as in other meetings, going so far as to confiscate a State Department linguist’s notes from at least one session.
The president has, in recent months, started adopting the propaganda of Putin’s Russia. In a Jan. 2 Cabinet meeting, for example, Trump claimed that the then–Soviet Union was correct to invade Afghanistan because terrorists were using it as a base for attacks in the USSR. While Putin’s government makes this assertion, most Western historians believe it is completely groundless.
A day before the Post story about the Putin meetings, The New York Times reported that the FBI was so alarmed by Trump’s firing of Director James Comey in May 2017 because of the Russia investigation that it opened a counterintelligence probe to determine whether the new president was, in fact, acting in the interest of Russia rather than the United States.
Saturday evening on Fox News, Trump attacked the nature of the inquiry at length but failed to deny the allegation. Monday morning, he told reporters that he was not a Russian agent.
“Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it’s a disgrace that you even asked that question, because it’s a whole big fat hoax. It’s just a hoax,” he said, responding to questions before leaving on a day trip to New Orleans.
He and his campaign’s relationship to Putin and Russia have been a focus of federal investigators since the summer of 2016, when Trump was still a candidate. His former campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s lawyers recently admitted that Manafort shared internal campaign polling data with a former Russian intelligence agent in 2016.
Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer close to Putin’s government at Trump Tower in New York in June 2016.
And Trump Sr. personally praised and urged his supporters to read stolen emails released by WikiLeaks to hurt opponent Hillary Clinton through the final month of the 2016 campaign — even though he had already been told that the emails had been stolen by Russian intelligence agents.