Tuesday 25 July 2017

Putin mocks idea secrets passed and offers Oval Office tapes

Vladimir Putin. Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/Reuters
Vladimir Putin. Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/Reuters

Denis Pinchuk and Andrew Osborn

Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that US President Donald Trump had not divulged any secrets during a meeting in Washington with Russian officials and offered to prove it by supplying Congress with a transcript.

But a leading US Republican politician said he would have little faith in any notes Mr Putin might supply.

Two US officials said on Monday that Mr Trump had disclosed classified information about a planned Isil operation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they met last week, plunging the White House into a fresh controversy just four months into Mr Trump's tenure.

Mr Trump, whose administration has been dogged by allegations that Russia helped him win the White House and that he and his allies are too cosy with Moscow, has defended his decision to discuss intelligence with the Russians after media reports of the meeting alarmed some US and foreign politicians.

Mr Putin deployed his trademark sarcasm yesterday to make clear he thought the accusation that Mr Trump had divulged secrets absurd.

"I spoke to him [Mr Lavrov] today," a smiling Mr Putin told a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

"I'll be forced to issue him [Mr Lavrov] with a reprimand because he did not share these secrets with us. 

"Not with me, nor with representatives of Russia's intelligence services. It was very bad of him." Mr Putin, who still hopes Moscow can repair battered ties with the United States despite a deepening political scandal related to Mr Trump's purported Russian links, said Moscow had rated Mr Lavrov's meeting with Mr Trump highly.

If the Trump administration deemed it appropriate, Mr Putin said Russia could hand over a transcript of Mr Trump's meeting with Mr Lavrov to US lawmakers to reassure them that no secrets were revealed.

A Kremlin aide, Yuri Ushakov, later told reporters that Moscow had a written record of the conversation, not an audio recording.

US Republican senator Marco Rubio was unimpressed with Mr Putin's offer and alluded to alleged Russian hacking of Democratic groups during the US presidential election.

"I wouldn't put much credibility into whatever Putin's notes are," Mr Rubio said on Fox News. 

"And if it comes in an email, I wouldn't click on the attachment."

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is among those probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election, called Mr Putin's offer "quite amusing".

"The last person Trump needs to vouch for him right now is Vladimir Putin," Mr Schiff said in an interview with CBS News.

"If they want to send something, you know, hats off. Send it our way... Its credibility would be less than zero." 

Russia has repeatedly denied interfering in the US election.

Mr Trump is also under pressure over accusations he asked then-FBI director James Comey to end the agency's investigation into the Russia ties of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The allegation stems from a memo written by Mr Comey and seen by a source familiar with the contents of the memo. Complaining about what he said was "political schizophrenia" in the United States, Mr Putin said Mr Trump was not being allowed to do his job properly.

"It's hard to imagine what else these people who generate such nonsense and rubbish can dream up next," said Mr Putin, referring to unnamed US politicians.

"What surprises me is that they are shaking up the domestic political situation using anti-Russian slogans. 

"Either they don't understand the damage they're doing to their own country, in which case they are simply stupid, or they understand everything, in which case they are dangerous and corrupt."

Russia has repeatedly said that Mr Trump's opponents are trying to damage him and Moscow by making what it says are false accusations about the billionaire president and the Russian government which initially had high hopes of a rapprochement.

Officials have told Reuters that Mr Trump's alleged disclosure of classified information to Russia's foreign minister is unlikely to stop allies who share intelligence with Washington from co-operating.

Irish Independent

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