President Donald Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former US officials said. Mr Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. US officials learned of Mr Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Mr Tillerson. The constraints that Mr Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Mr Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.
As a result, US officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Mr Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to instal through what US intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.
Special counsel Robert Mueller III is thought to be in the final stages of an investigation that has focused largely on whether Mr Trump or his associates conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. The new details about Mr Trump’s continued secrecy underscores the extent to which little is known about his communications with Mr Putin since becoming president.