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Trump, Following Explosive News Reports, Denies He Worked For Russia

President Trump called the idea he might have worked on behalf of Russia a "hoax" at the White House on Monday. "A whole big fat hoax." News reports raised new questions over the weekend.
Evan Vucci
President Trump called the idea he might have worked on behalf of Russia a "hoax" at the White House on Monday. "A whole big fat hoax." News reports raised new questions over the weekend.

Updated at 1:05 p.m. ET

President Trump on Monday denied that he has been trying to conceal details about his discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin after a pair of explosive press reports over the weekend.

"I never worked for Russia," Trump told reporters. "It's a disgrace that you even asked that question because it's a whole big fat hoax. It's just a hoax."

Trump also said he doesn't know anything about what happened to the notes taken by an interpreter when he met with Putin last summer in Finland or after other meetings with the Russian leader.

The Washington Post reported that Trump has taken at least one interpreter's notes after a meeting with Putin and instructed a linguist not to brief anyone else in the administration about what the two leaders had discussed during their closed-door meeting.

That followed a pattern of what the newspaper describes as attempts by Trump to limit access to his dealings with the Russian leader and the initially false explanation he gave about the meeting in June 2016 at which his top campaign aides hosted a Russian delegation that had offered "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

Trump said on Monday morning that he had a good meeting with Putin in Helsinki and that he often deals one-on-one with world leaders, including the presidents of China and Japan.

The Post report followed an earlier story by The New York Times that said the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump in 2017 after he fired then-Director James Comey.

That was reportedly passed to the current special counsel, Robert Mueller, but it isn't clear whether the counterintelligence question — Was Trump working on behalf of Russia? — remains part of the broader investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

Trump and the White House scoffed at the reports — press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called The Times'story "absurd" — and Trump later said on Twitter that reporters have become so frenzied pursuing what he calls false stories that they need a vacation.

Trump also said on Monday morning that the FBI has been discredited by Comey and its other leaders, including former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired last year after an internal investigation.

The discredited FBI leaders are "known scoundrels," Trump told reporters. He called them "dirty cops."

Democrats want more information

The weekend's reports intensified calls by Democrats for more information about Trump's contacts with the Russian leader, particularly at the summit in Helsinki.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has called for the interpreter to appear at a hearing or for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to provide notes or other materials from the summit.

House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that although he couldn't comment on the specifics of the Times report, "counterintelligence concerns about those associated with the Trump campaign, including the president himself, have been at the heart of our investigation since the beginning."

Schiff and others renewed their calls for the State Department to release more information about the Trump-Putin summit, including the interpreter herself. Schiff and other Democrats tried to get that before but were blocked by Republicans, then the majority in the House.

Now with Democrats in control of the intelligence committee and other chairmanships, there may be a renewed push to try to compel more disclosure by the executive branch, and one beyond just the intelligence panel.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told NPR that he too wants to find out more about Trump's relationships with Russia and that his committee would convene hearings to that end.

It's not acceptable how little information many in the administration or in Congress have about what Trump and Putin discussed in Helsinki, Engel said.

"Nobody knows, as far as I know. I certainly don't know what happened there, what they discussed," he said. "The Trump-Putin connection doesn't pass the smell test. It just makes you scratch your head."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.
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