19:55 GMT28 February 2021
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    Donald Trump’s presidency was marred by accusations his campaign had coordinated with Moscow to help him win the 2016 election – claims that were never supported by evidence. As Trump’s second impeachment trial currently unfolds, US media is drawing attention to what kind of “deals” he could have struck with Russia while president.

    New American President Joe Biden now has access to all of Donald Trump’s past phone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Politico says, citing sources from the previous and new White House administrations.

    According to the media outlet, the ex-US president had “closely guarded his private conversations with foreign leaders while in office”, even reportedly hiding some of them in the “NSC’s top-secret codeword system” to limit access to them from some staffers.

    But with Biden now taking the presidential seat, his team does not need approval from his predecessor to dig through those records. According to a former Trump official: “Biden owns all the call materials. There is only one president at a time”.

    President Donald Trump, right, walk past Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, as they gather for the group photo at the start of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018
    © AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais
    President Donald Trump, right, walk past Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, as they gather for the group photo at the start of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018

    When calls or in-person conversations were not recorded, Trump’s aides would resort to what is known as “memcons” (memorandums of conversations), which are loosely written notes about the substance of the talks. The “memcons” of the 45th president are now also available through the National Archives and Records Administration, according to the former Trump staffer.

    The outlet believes getting access to this info is crucial, as “understanding what was said between the two could help illuminate whether Trump ever revealed sensitive information or struck any deals with the Kremlin leader that could take the new administration by surprise”.

    ‘National Security Priority’

    One ex-national security official reportedly argued that it becomes “a national security priority” to find out what Trump said to Putin while in office.

    “Some things, like what happened in some face-to-face meetings where no American translator or note-taker was present, may never be fully known. But I would be very surprised if the new national security team were not trying to access [the call records]”, the source was quoted as saying.

    The White House did not comment on whether the Biden team has already attempted to analyse Trump’s past calls with Vladimir Putin, or other heads of state.

    Another former Trump official, however, told the outlet that some things had better stay private for the sake of avoiding “constant partisan gamesmanship”.

    Over the four years of his presidency, Trump personally met with Putin on at least five occasions. During their first meeting at the G20 summit in Germany in July 2017, the two are believed to have talked twice. The Washington Post claimed later that Trump took “the unusual step” of taking notes from his translator and instructed the staffer not to discuss the information the two shared with other officials.

     In this June 28, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump, right, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
    © AP Photo / Susan Walsh
    In this June 28, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump, right, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

    Trump and Putin also had over a dozen phone conversations. Readouts would usually be published by either the Kremlin or the White House following the talks, but the media still argues that there was too much secrecy.

    Trump’s former top advisers have maintained, however, that the ex-president would “rarely” tell Putin anything that he was not already ranting publicly about, especially on his Twitter account. Which would include complaints about the Russiagate scam.

    ‘Russia Hoax’

    Russia-US relations have long been a subject of increased attention amid accusations that the Kremlin helped Donald Trump win the presidency. In May 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller launched a probe to investigate whether Trump campaign staffers colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 election campaign in a bit to help him get elected – something both sides have strongly denied. Trump dismissed the probe as a “Russia Hoax”.

    However, the two-year investigation led to a conclusion that was disappointing to some Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton: "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities”.

    The timing of Politico’s report – as Donald Trump is currently undergoing his second impeachment trial in the Senate, which could see him barred from ever holding public office again if convicted – suggests that the ex-president’s past records might now also be heavily scrutinised in order to dig up as much dirt as possible.

    Tags:
    Mueller Probe, Russia, White House, Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, United States
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