Briefing papers warned Trump to ‘not congratulate’ Putin for his re-election
Aides included a section in Trump’s briefing materials for his Tuesday morning phone call to Putin stating: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.world Updated: Mar 21, 2018 22:43 IST
President Donald Trump was warned in briefing materials to refrain from congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election, but he did so anyway, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
Aides included a section in Trump’s briefing materials for his Tuesday morning phone call to Putin stating: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
The White House said in a statement it is a “fireable offense and likely illegal” to leak Trump’s briefing papers to the press. The message was first reported by The Washington Post.
It was unclear whether Trump, who prefers oral briefings, read the talking points prepared by his national security team before the call. National Security Adviser HR McMaster briefed the president in person before the call in the White House residence.
The briefing document with guidance for the Putin phone call is accessible only to a select group of aides, and the White House expressed anger Wednesday that it was leaked to the media.
“If this story is accurate, that means someone leaked the President’s briefing papers. Leaking such information is a fireable offense and likely illegal,” the White House said in an official statement.
It was an unusual threat. Other revelations of classified material — including partial transcripts of Trump’s calls with foreign leaders — have not garnered specific threats of termination or criminal action.
Trump’s call of congratulations drew him bruising criticism from members of his own party even before the Post reported that aides had given him instructions not to do so. Trump also said he and Putin might meet “in the not too distant future” to discuss the arms race and other matters.
What they didn’t discuss on Tuesday was noteworthy as well: Trump did not raise Russia’s meddling in the US elections or its suspected involvement in the recent poisoning of a former spy in Britain.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s call and noted that President Barack Obama made a similar call at the time of Putin’s last electoral victory.
“We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Sanders said.
Trump’s call comes at a period of heightened tensions between the two nations after the White House imposed sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 US election and other “malicious cyberattacks.” Sanders insisted that the administration has scolded Putin at the appropriate times.
The Kremlin said in a statement that Trump and Putin spoke about a need to “coordinate efforts to limit the arms race” and for closer cooperation on strategic stability and counterterrorism.
“Special attention was given to considering the issue of a possible bilateral summit,” the Kremlin statement said.
Putin received calls from a number of other foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many others, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, sent congratulatory telegrams.
The White House had said Monday that it was “not surprised by the outcome” of Sunday’s presidential election in Russia and that no congratulatory call was planned.
Trump continues to grapple with the shadow of the ongoing investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 election that sent him to the White House.