When you install the president of the United States into his office, the next step is setting the rules of the game.
That’s exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin is now attempting to do by declaring that the U.S. government would need the consent of the Kremlin to publicly release the transcripts of calls between himself and Donald Trump.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) has indicated that Congress wants to examine the transcripts of those calls after it was revealed that they were hidden on the same highly classified limited-access server as the controversial extortionary calls that Trump held with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman immediately after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, Schiff said that Congress is “determined to find out” if calls with other leaders, “in particular with Putin,” are hidden in the same top-secret server and contain any indications of schemes “meant for covert action.”
According to Reuters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that America would need Russia’s approval to disclose the contents of the calls.
“Of course their publication is to some extent only possible by mutual agreement of the parties. This is a certain diplomatic practice,” Peskov said.
“To be more specific, perhaps, diplomatic practice, in general, does not envisage their publication. If there are some signals from the Americans, then we will discuss [them],” he added.
It is not known whether anyone in the State Department replied to the Kremlin that it is certain diplomatic practice to refrain from interfering in the elections of a sovereign foreign nation, but it’s unlikely that Russia would ever get such a message from the administration that benefited from its proven election meddling.
It is unlikely that actual diplomatic considerations — rather than Trump’s instincts for self-preservation — would prevent the revelation of the contents of the transcripts of Trump’s calls with Putin, at least to the members of the House Intelligence Committee who have the security clearance to view the most classified of government documents.
Neither will executive privilege protect the transcripts from being subpoenaed by Congress now that a formal impeachment inquiry is in progress and the documents could be material to the ability of the House to fully investigate the President’s crimes — or as Trump refers to the uncovering of his illegal and treasonous behavior the “Democratic Witch Hunt.”
It will be interesting to see how many of the supposedly patriotic right-wing supporters of the president will accept the idea that the United States should bow down to the demands of a foreign power in the midst of one of the most crucial investigations in the nation’s history. Now is the time when the decision to support their party and their president over the country can determine the future of democracy in America and whether they are really patriots or simply partisan traitors.
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Original reporting by Rebecca Klar at The Hill.