The US President has been accused of going to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his meetings with his Russian counterpart, including on at least one occasion seizing the notes of his own interpreter.
US officials have said it means there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of five of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with Putin over the last two years.
The extraordinary actions were reportedly brought to light when a White House advisor and senior State Department official requested further information from an interpreter who was present when the two world leaders spoke in Germany in 2017 – with no other officials attending.
The revelation, reported by the Washington Post on Saturday, came a day after it was revealed the FBI had investigated whether Trump has been working on behalf of Russia, against US interests.
The New York Times reported the probe began in the days after Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI in May 2017 and said the agency’s counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether his actions constituted a possible threat to national security.
On Saturday evening, Trump phoned into Fox News to rebut the claims and speaking of the 2017 meeting with Putin, said: “We had a great conversation...I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.”
He said he talked with Putin about Israel, among other subjects, adding: “Anyone could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs.”
He did not elaborate on how anyone could obtain details of the meeting.
During the interview with Jeanine Pirro – a staunch defender of the President – the host smirked when she asked him: “Have you ever worked for Russia Mr President?”.
Trump responded: ”I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked...the most insulting article I’ve ever had written & if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing.”
Trump then repeated claims he had made in a tweet earlier that day, saying: “And I can tell you this, if you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other ― probably any other president period.
Again, he did not elaborate on his reasoning.
Trump has made a number of decisions during his time as president that have benefitted Putin whilst simultaneously confounding his closest officials and advisors.
In 2018 Trump refused to impose sanctions on Russia that were passed into law almost unanimously last year and was designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.
The legislation was signed reluctantly by Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress.
Commentators questioned why the Trump administration would move to protect Russian interests at the expense of punishing them for alleged election interference.
Trump tweeted early on Saturday that the report showed that the FBI leadership “opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof” after he had fired Comey.
Robert Mueller took over the investigation when he was appointed special counsel soon after Comey’s firing. The overall investigation is looking into Russian election interference and whether Trump’s campaign co-ordinated with the Russians, as well as possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the New York Times he had no knowledge of the inquiry but said that since it was opened a year-and-a-half ago and they had not heard anything, apparently “they found nothing”.
Trump has also repeatedly and vociferously denied collusion with the Russians.