Remember the May 2017 Oval Office meeting in which President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information on the Islamic State to senior Russian officials? Well it turns out there was another, even more scandalous, exchange during that encounter. According to the Washington Post, Trump told two senior Russian officials that he was unconcerned about the country interfering in the 2016 presidential election at least in part because the United States also did that to other countries. White House officials were so troubled by the remark that appeared to suggest Trump was forgiving the Russians for interfering in the U.S. election that they proceeded to tightly restrict access to the comments, according to the Post, which cites three former officials with knowledge of the matter.
Trump made the comments to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak during a meeting in which he also celebrated the firing of James Comey, characterizing the former FBI director as a “nut job.” Trump also reportedly said that the firing of Comey a day earlier got rid of the “great pressure because of Russia” that he faced.
The Post’s revelation would be huge news at any time but is particularly crucial this week at a time when the White House is being accused of severely restricting access to Trump’s contacts with foreign leaders, particularly when they included elements that could be embarrassing for the administration.
In this case, the memorandum that summarized the main elements of the meeting were limited to only a few officials who had the highest security clearances. According to a separate report in the New York Times, it was after this meeting with the two senior Russian officials that the White House began to use a highly classified computer system to store reconstructed transcripts of calls between Trump and some foreign leaders. Although the White House had already been restricting some information on the contacts with foreign leaders as a result of earlier leaks, “the conversation with Mr. Lavrov and Sergey I. Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, prompted tighter restrictions,” according to the Times.
With its revelation, the Post seems to have uncovered something that special counsel Robert Mueller missed entirely. Los Angeles Times reporter Chris Megerian pointed out on Twitter that while Mueller’s report referenced the May 2017 meeting it made “no mention of Trump saying he was unbothered by Russian meddling.”