Trump’s secret meeting with Vladimir Putin is a terrible idea. So White House officials are now trying to deny it was ever even planned.
Donald Trump’s practice of holding secret, closed-door, off-the-record meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin is a break from precedent that is hugely damaging for U.S. foreign policy.
Which is why, after news that Trump is planning another such meeting on his tour of Asia, the White House responded to widespread outrage by backing off the idea that the meeting is even going take place.
At a briefing on Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had this response to questions about a Trump/Putin meeting:
Regarding a Putin meeting, there was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides. There is no formal meeting or anything scheduled for them. Now, they’re going to be in the same place. Are they going to bump into each other and say hello? Certainly possible and likely. But in terms of scheduled formal meeting, there’s not one on the calendar and we don’t anticipate that there will be one.
Notably, Sanders repeatedly qualified her denial by saying there would be no “formal” or “scheduled” meeting, yet she said it was “likely” that they would still “bump into each other.” In other words, they are going to meet, but it will be on the side and not an official thing anyone will be able to scrutinize.
Sanders and Trump apparently do not realize that these sorts of undisclosed chats are more problematic, not less.
Because Trump has refused to take notes at his past meetings with Putin, or allow the details of these meetings to be shared, even his own State Department and national security team are in the dark about what Trump agreed to do, let alone the American people. It is yet another way that Trump is giving short shrift to his diplomats.
Meeting Putin in private casts doubt on every decision Trump has made with respect to the Kremlin, not least his refusal to implement Russian sanctions that were overwhelmingly passed by both parties in Congress. And it does nothing to allay the allegations of conspiracy with Russia to influence the U.S. presidential election, currently under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The White House does not want Trump’s relationship with Putin in the public eye. But with their secrecy, they only invite more scrutiny and suspicion.