White House Transcript Omits Critical Question From Trump-Putin Press Conference Video (UPDATE)

“Did you want President Trump to win the election" isn't in the official transcript.

UPDATE: July 27, 10 a.m. ― The White House transcript has been updated to include the missing question.


A White House transcript and video of President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s July 16 press conference in Helsinki are missing a critical question from a reporter.

During the press conference, Reuters reporter Jeff Mason asked Putin the question: “Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”

As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said Tuesday, the White House video of the event omitted the first part of Mason’s question. Only the second part — about directing officials to help Trump — was included.

The Russian leader responded, “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”

“What the White House has disappeared from the official U.S. government record of that meeting ... is President Putin answering in the affirmative when asked if he wanted Trump to win the election,” Maddow said.

A White House transcript of the press conference omits the first part of Jeff Mason's question to President Putin.
A White House transcript of the press conference omits the first part of Jeff Mason's question to President Putin.
White House

The Atlantic was the first to point out this discrepancy, noting last week that neither the White House transcript of the exchange nor its video of the press conference included Mason’s full question to Putin. The White House didn’t immediately provide an explanation for this, The Atlantic said.

As the outlet noted at the time, Putin’s response to Mason’s query had already been ambiguous, as it was unclear whether he was answering the first or second part of the question when he said, “Yes, I did.”

The Reuters reporter told The Atlantic, however, that he believed Putin had likely been responding to the first part of the question — the very part the White House has omitted.

“You could interpret [Putin’s response] to mean he’s answering ‘yes’ to both,” Mason said. ”[But] looking at it critically, he spent a good chunk of that press conference, just like President Trump did, denying any collusion. So I think it’s likely that when he said ‘Yes, I did,’ that he was just responding to the first part of my question and perhaps didn’t hear the second part.”

The Kremlin doesn’t have the exchange between Mason and the Russian president in its transcript of the event.

“At least the White House had the courtesy to leave in half of his question so you can get a misleading answer,” Maddow quipped. “The Russians just disappeared [Mason] altogether ... They skip over that entire exchange.”

The Atlantic said last week that it was possible the White House’s omission was accidental. But Maddow challenged that suggestion on Tuesday, saying the administration has since had plenty of time to correct the error.

As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump points out, the omission may have been the result of a technical error.

At some point in the middle of that question, there’s a switch between the feed from the reporters and the feed from the translator. In the White House version of the video, you can hear the question being asked very faintly under the woman who is translating saying “president.”
If you’re wearing headphones, you can notice how the latter part of the question is suddenly audible in the right earpiece. At first, the right channel is only the translator. Mid-question, the reporter is suddenly heard in both left and right as the translator feed drops out. Notice, too, that Putin then picks up his earpiece — through which he can hear the translations — and puts it in his right ear.

Bump said the Post’s transcript, obtained from a private service, had initially omitted the first part of Mason’s question, too.

“This is not a conspiracy from the White House,” Bump concluded.

Yet, although the Post’s version was corrected in the week since the omission was first reported, the White House’s transcript of the event was still unchanged as of Wednesday night ― even after the White House told NBC News’ Peter Alexander that the document had been “updated for the Presidential record.”

In a series of tweets, Maddow acknowledged Bump’s theory of a technical error as “one possible explanation” for the missing question but wondered at the status of the official transcript.

“After more than a week of reporting on the bad transcript ... (1): White House has let it stand uncorrected, and (2): POTUS now asserts that Putin wants *Dems* to win, not him,” Maddow wrote, referencing an unsubstantiated claim made by the president earlier this week.

“I love WaPo with the heat of 1,000 suns, but nothing here from WaPo disproves our report,” she said.

This article has been updated with additional information about the transcription process and comment from Rachel Maddow.

Sara Boboltz contributed reporting.

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