Trump Was Worried HR McMaster or Fiona Hill Would Spy on His Conversation with Putin

There were two infuriating stories earlier this week in preparation of today’s meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The Daily Beast reported that Trump’s aides wanted top NSC Russia expert Fiona Hill in the meeting between the presidents.

According to two White House aides, senior Trump administration officials have pressed for Hill—the National Security Council’s senior director for Europe and Russia and the author of critical psychological biography of Putin—to be in the room during the president’s highly anticipated meeting with Putin.

If Hill is there, these officials believe, it will help the White House avoid the perception that the president is too eager to cozy up to the Kremlin. The hope is to avoid a repeat of Trump’s last meeting with top Russian officials, during which he disclosed classified intelligence to two of the country’s top diplomats—and was pictured by Russian state media looking particularly friendly with them.

But it used linguistic gymnastics to avoid stating who might decide to keep Hill out of the meeting.

Then Axios reported that just Trump, Rex Tillerson, and a translator would represent the US.

There will likely only be six people in the room when President Trump meets President Putin on Friday at the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

According to an official familiar with the meeting’s planning, it will be Trump, Putin, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, and translators.

But it, too, remained silent about who decided to keep the attendee list so small (though admittedly, that detail was a less crucial part of their story).

Thankfully, the NYT has finally revealed that it was Trump, not Putin, who chose to limit attendees.

Only six people attended the meeting itself: Mr. Trump and his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson; Mr. Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov; and two interpreters.

The Russians had agitated to include several more staff members in the meeting, but Mr. Trump’s team had insisted that the meeting be kept small to avoid leaks and competing accounts later, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the carefully choreographed meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity around the matter.

And he did so specifically to avoid leaks about what would transpire.

This means that Trump (personally, given the NYT portrayal) decided to exclude his National Security Advisor and top Russian advisor. And he did so, again, based on the NYT reporting, because he didn’t want a competing account from coming out. He basically excluded the key staffers who should have been in the meeting, in spite of the wishes of aides, to avoid having Russian critics describing what really happened in his meeting with Putin.

Remember, this is not the first time Trump has excluded McMaster from a key meeting: he also left McMaster sitting outside his meeting with Bibi Netanyahu, after belatedly inviting Tillerson in.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

42 replies
  1. Bob In Portland says:

    If Trump is holding a meeting with Putin, and he keeps just about every US official out of it, it strongly suggests that he doesn’t trust the permanent government. And he doesn’t. He’s not worrying about the Russians hacking him, he’s worried about the US government undermining him.

    It’s there for all to see.

    If you haven’t already, please read what I wrote back in April:  https://caucus99percent.com/content/okeydoke-americans-were-supposed-get

      • Charles says:

        Countermeasures mean that this is unlikely. Not to mention that the NSA doesn’t want to get involved in wiretapping a president–would terminate the credibility of the agencies.

         

        The German intelligence agencies… maybe. But again, countermeasures.

    • lefty665 says:

      Nice link Bob, you wrote good stuff.

      FYI, it has attracted attention, I’ve tried several times over the last couple of days to read it, but could not until this morning due to too many users.

      Averting Hillary’s hell bent neocon rush to war with Russia may be by far the best thing we can hope for from Trump. Much of the hysteria since the election appears to have been attempts to put that war on the front burner. They may yet succeed.

       

  2. dalloway says:

    Let’s just hope that while Trump was busy rage-tweeting about John Podesta this morning, some deft spook of ours was placing a tiny listening device in his hair weave.

  3. Teddy says:

    How did Melania get in there at the one-hour mark, then (per Rex) in order to bring the performance review to a close after twice the time allotted? And why did Rex say “clearly she failed” at getting The Lads’ attention, since they went another 75 minutes after that? People peeping the door to try to get them to wrap up, while Rex sits there like a lump letting 45 prattle on to his love interest?

    What really happened?

  4. Rayne says:

    Sending Melania in to break up the run-on circle jerk — just, wow.

    Was it because Putin has an eye for the dames?

    Was it because she might be the only woman in Trump’s life who doesn’t appear to suck up to him?

    Or was it because she wouldn’t be called to give testimony against her husband in the future?

    Poor girl. Doubt she knew what she was getting herself into back in 2005-ish.

  5. lefty665 says:

    Trump’s got every reason to be ripped at leaks from high level meetings. There have been no hangings on the White House lawn, so the perps are still in place.  Reducing the number of potential leakers makes sense.

    Also looks like Trump did not want to have hard line neocons crapping in the middle of things then grinding their axes by leaking their versions. That is a pretty rational decision too, so is including the Sec. State instead of the Natl. Security Advisor for what is an initial meeting with a head of state.

    Hill has written an anti Putin book. Regardless of what you think of the book, bringing her along would be an explicit insult. That ain’t no way to conduct diplomacy.

    I’m no trump fan, but jeez folks use your heads. Do y’all really want war with Russia?

     

    • Peterr says:

      It wouldn’t be an insult, but a calculated move to let the Russians know that this isn’t a little chit-chat. It also would be par for the course in the history of diplomatic conversations, as each side wants the folks who they believe best understands the opposition in the room to watch everything and catch nuances that the principals might miss.

      Trump, OTOH, believes himself to be incapable of missing anything, and does not take well to having a woman tell him something he doesn’t already know — and God forbid that a woman challenge him and try to correct him.

      Excluding your National Security Advisor from a conversation explicitly designed to talk about security issues makes little sense. Per the various accounts, they talked about North Korea and Syria, both of which subjects you’d want to have McMaster in the room for.

      My WAG is that in addition to Trump wanting to avoid leaks, it is at least as much about wanting to firmly control the discussion of Russian intervention in the 2016 election. If McMaster has been trying to say “Look, boss, you won — but we can’t have the Russians mucking about in our elections!” for a couple of weeks or months, that would make him the *last* person Trump would want to have in this little sit-down with Putin and Lavrov. Without him there, Trump can raise the subject and then drop it, so that he can send Tillerson out in front of the microphones (no cameras allowed, you know) to say he “pressed” the Russians on it.

      • lefty665 says:

        Sorry, Bringing along someone who has published an explicitly critical to hostile book to an initial head of state meeting is not diplomacy, it is deliberate antagonism. If what you want is war with Russia, staffing that meeting with warmongering, anti Russian neocons like Hill and McMaster is how you do it.  It is not conduct aimed at reducing tensions or finding areas where our respective countries can work together. Excluding those two were surprisingly mature choices by Trump,  better than I expected.

        Trump did come out of the meeting with the opportunity to work together with the Russians on deescalation in southwestern Syria. That is a start, and especially welcome if it means the US is moderating its support for ISIL, al qaeda and other terrorists. It is also worth remembering that our presence in Syria is an illegal war of aggression while the Russians are there at the behest of the Syrian government. It will be interesting to see if they enforce a no fly zone for Israel over southwestern Syria.

        There were very few potential upsides to Trump as President.  Reducing tensions with the Russians was far and away at the top of the list. Much of the country, lead by the neocons, liberal interventionists and hysterical Hillaryites have been doing all in their power to prevent that from happening, and risk destroying the world.  They do not serve our country or the world well. From your comments you share that group “wisdom”. I do not.

    • Charles says:

      I’m no trump fan, but jeez folks use your heads. Do y’all really want war with Russia?

       

      There is a fear among some on the left that an aggressive policy toward Russia raises the risks of war. This is misplaced. Sure, the US meddles in other countries’ elections–and what has that earned us but the lasting hate of those populations?  Consider what that means here:

       

      We got through the Cold War even with a dangerously aggressive policy, because a) the USSR and the US talked to one another, b) the two believed one another; except for Nixon’s delusion about the Madman Theory, the leaders of both countries engaged one another frankly, and c) most importantly, there were voices in the center-left urging restraint.  Had Jack Kennedy not restrained Curtis LeMay & Co, the world would be ashes.

       

      The right always wants war. The true left has no power. Only the center left is capable of acting as a voice of restraint.

       

      What has happened is that the belief–whether correct or not– that Russia installed Trump and is controlling the United States has so enraged the center left that the prospect of peaceful relations with Russia have been destroyed for a generation. Sure, Trump may not start World War III– or maybe he will–but what will remain once he is out of power is either right-wing control that thrives on war or a center left that hates Russia with a deep passion and therefore will fail to restrain those who want war.

      Putin is a terrible leader.  Meddling in the election may have given him temporary advantage, but at the cost of raising the risks of war for a generation.

       

      What we need to do is have a serious investigation that will determine exactly what did or did not happen in the election, followed by punishment of the guilty. That, and that alone, will get us off a path toward dangerous instability.

       

      • lefty665 says:

        Justice has been done, Hillary is not in the white house. Unfortunately the rest of us are stuck with Trump.  For the survival of the world we better figure out how to get over the tantrums and reestablish civil relations with the Russians.

        • Charles says:

          Justice has been done, Hillary is not in the white house. Unfortunately the rest of us are stuck with Trump.  For the survival of the world we better figure out how to get over the tantrums and reestablish civil relations with the Russians.

           

          The survival of the world probably depends on the Russians and the other petrostates failing, having revolutions, and establishing actual governments, rather than mafiocracies. The US, for all of its insanity, has only become deranged thanks to authoritarianism of the kind that rules Russia and Saudi Arabia.

           

          Hate on Obama all you will, but the sanctions on Russia blocked their insane, planet-destroying plan to drill the Arctic. The likelihood is that the Russians agreed to help Trump because they wanted to get back to planetary destruction.

           

          The election of Trump, and the cementing of the Republican majority has greased the skids for an acceleration into disaster. So, strange idea of justice you have. That’s my idea of justice turned inside out and shaken.

          • lefty665 says:

            Well, we can only hope for the survival of the planet that your bizarre version of the recent past and present and equally twisted vision of the future are both profoundly wrong.

            Hillary was a corrupt, neocon, neolib rocket ship to the apocalypse. She was among the worst candidates to ever run for president. She was so bad that she lost to Donald [email protected]#$% Trump. The Russians did not steal the election. Hillary lost it.  We are as fortunate she is not president as unfortunate Trump is. There was no lesser evil in ’16. You have not figured that out and it is beyond me to reach you.

            It is not that the Repubs have cemented their majority but that the Dems have abandoned it. The Dems are repressing attempts to clean house of corrupt neolibs and reclaim their New Deal lower and middle class, working class roots, soul and the majority of the country.

            Strange as it seems, Kansas is the hope for the the country at the moment. Teabaggerism ran its course there when the voters of Kansas got fed up with destruction of public services and Teabagger failure to deliver on their promises. Surprise surprise, prosperity did not follow freeing entrepreneurs from the yoke of helping to pay for public services like schools and roads through taxes. Kansans have returned merely conservative Repubs  to office who are raising taxes to pay for reviving services the public wants from the state.

            Who knows, Rockefeller Repubs may arise from the grave to save us from both the spawn of Goldwater and the evil of corrupt, neolib, new Dem Clintons. It is ironic that the horror show the last 50 years have been makes that attractive. Where have you gone Nelson Rockefeller, a nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.

             

             

            • Charles says:

              Hillary was a corrupt, neocon, neolib rocket ship to the apocalypse. 

              Your post is a non-responsive rocketship into mindless invective. I’ve made the point that the Russians want to drill the Arctic, that that would be an ecological catastrophe, and that the sanctions block them from doing it. Everyone knows this is true( 1 2 3 4).

               

              Hillary has plenty of faults. She has also been the target of almost three decades of smears and hate TV.  She is by far not the worst person to run for the presidency.  To take one reasonably objective measure, she was given a rating that corresponds roughly to a C on truthfulness, while Trump receives a clear F.

              • lefty665 says:

                The first three of your links are unpersuasive. In order: 1 While I generally have supported Greenpeace, this post is hysterical and mostly propaganda rather than fact. 2 Your link to a subscription  page for the Financial Times does not add much to the conversation. 3 Your CNBC link repeats the “17 intelligence agencies” canard that discredits the piece. 4 Your final link does address the dangers of arctic drilling, US every bit as much as Russian. Tell me, should there be sanctions against US drilling in the arctic? Or should the Russians do what we say, not what we do?

                “Hillary has plenty of faults.” Boy you got that right. So many that we’re tremendously fortunate she did not get to move her corrupt, lying, neocon, neolib butt back into the White House. Bill is no better, and between them they have been responsible for much of what ails the Dem party and the country. Trump is no better, but horrible in different ways. He may at least keep us out of war with the Russians.

                 

                 

                 

                • John Casper says:

                  lefty665,

                  Your analysis of Charles’ fourth link, undercut your point.

                  Wall Street used the same argument when requesting bailouts–“you gave that bank more, why am I getting less–and being allowed to get off of felony murder charges–laundering money for drug dealers, who slaughtered innocent people.

                  I don’t know any climate scientist who wants to make isolated predictions about the damage from Arctic drilling. If you know of one, please link to it. There are too many other factors. Methane seepage as the tundras retreat and from the oceans, is just one example.

                  Please point out what was “hysterical” in the Greenpeace link. I missed it. Please also point out what in it you didn’t consider “propaganda.”

                  Do you have a link–I know you’re allergic to them–to the “17 intelligence agencies,” canard? I’d like to know what it is, before I evaluate your assessment.

                  I don’t subscribe to FT, but I think you were correct on Charles’ second link.

                  Don’t forget to remove the extra space your taking up above the “Reply.”

                • Charles says:

                  Your failure to figure out how to get free access to the FT convinces me that you lack any interest in discussing things honestly, as does your use of the  tedious deflection onto the 17 vs. 4 intelligence agencies controversy, as does your failure to deal with the fact that Russia is desperate to exploit its Arctic reserves and has done so irresponsibly, as does your failure to deal with the larger point that Trump is pledged to increasing carbon production while Clinton was committed to decreasing it, as does your inability to accept clear evidence that Trump lies about everything.

                   

                  You have shown no interest in discussing anything fairly. Where I am happy to discuss the very real faults of Clinton–and have done so at great length especially with regard to her role in the 2009 coup in Honduras–you are engaged in peddling hate.  All politicians have flaws. But there is no comparison between the pathological liar in office and any other presidential candidate in living memory.

                  • lefty665 says:

                    Have nice lives guys. Hopefully we will all live long enough for y’all to get a clue. One of the first clues might be to drop the ad hominem stuff if you’re actually interested in having a discussion. Bye

                     

                     

  6. Ben says:

    He’s dope-roped himself. If derp-state is plying him with cock slaps, the result is color in his cheeks.

    Russia is an Edsel. Better to think about Xi and the NorKs

  7. bmaz says:

    I haz sources (Trump lies about tapps, Angela Merkel has them baby), here is Trump and Putin on the….

    • lefty665 says:

      Gene Wilder would do a killer Putin. I can see him riding a horse shirtless now if I just close my eyes:) A scene with Duhbya gazing mesmerized into his eyes could be great too.

      • lefty665 says:

        ps Wilder as Putin dancing with the  FrankenTrump monster ain’t shabby. Thanks for brightening up my evening bmaz. Now if the ‘Skins will just sign Cousins….You up for trash talkin’ as practice season gets rolling?

      • bmaz says:

        Right?? I seriously was kind of picturing that dance between Putin and Trump when I thought of that clip. It kind works.

  8. MaDarby says:

    Wow, conjecture on what was in Trump’s mind (or maybe its fact like the Russian hacking) siting conjecture by the NYT and building on that.

    I know everyone is going to think I’m just another nut case on the internet, but this follows a religious ideology, an extremist form of Evangelical Christianity.  Trump is wrong and bad a sinner of the first order because he dishonors the first four commandments, for one reason which is not tolerated by any religion especially the extremist factions such as Jewish settlers and Midwestern US protestant extremism.  OBEY that is the diktat given in five of the ten commandments.

    The so called center can be very extreme, wars are started by the political center not by fringe groups.  The idea that the Wahhabi view of the Muslim faith supported by the Saud family or the Calvinist Christian fundamentalist of the Midwestern US are not extreme while they are the perpetrators of war and the spread of human suffering through starvation and the spread of curable diseases (see Yemen) throughout the world.

    Trump is not part of – and therefore a threat to – the dominate religious paradigm and must be commended and shamed.

    A good read would be the books on the Dulles brothers (The Brothers or The Devil’s Chessboard) are quite enlightening as it shows how Christian protestant extremism has dominated US ideology and was, as it is now, used to justify slaughter on a consistent and occasionally grand scale for the past 70 years.

    Not a single day sense the US dropped nuclear bombs on two cities full of innocent people has the US not killed anyone and on most days hundreds or thousands of people.  Not a single day of the past 70 years has gone by when the US did not deliberately leave people by the hundreds of millions to starve and suffer needless deprivation.

    Emptywheel certainly has every right to support this power as it does. help to continue the slaughter because god just won’t tolerate Putin and if we don’t do something god will be angry and we will spend an eternity in hell.

    Religious people don’t follow the scientific method as they accept and diktat based on god’s will or their interpretation of god’s will.  If the scientific method were followed the Russian hacking story would disappear in a heart beat.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Trump is as religious as a New Jersey loan shark, which is closer to his way of thinking, even though he has never been tough enough actually to be one.

      • MaDarby says:

        I am referring to the religious fervor of emptywheel and many others who attack Trump without convening evidence of all manor of atrocities.  People who religiously object to Trump for the greatest sin of all – disobedience (read the first four of the “ten commandments”).

        It forcefully appears that emptywheel supports the continuation of a global power which has slaughtered tens of millions of people over the last 70 years – a power which EVERY SINGLE DAY – for the past 70 years has engaged in the killing of people and the subjugation of billions.

        Emptywheel says all that’s just fine keep it up, because clearly Russia is a threat to humanity (extreme fundamental Christian ideology).

        Sure emptywheel just one more “election” and the world will be safe again for the US empire to continue its relentless slaughter.  Thank god.

        • John Casper says:

          MaDarby,

          You’re not a Christian.

          TEN COMMANDMENTS appear in Exodus 20, Exodus 34, and Deuteronomy 5. The order of the “first four” is different.

          Were you referring to the “first four” in the Koran’s single version of Moses’ Ten Commandments?

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump, like the Bushies’ Pentagon, is afraid of knowledgeable people.  In Shrub’s Pentagon, experienced military officers who spoke, say, Arabic, Pashto or Farsi, by definition were unuseable.  Their expertise a) might not be politically reliable,  b) might allow the adviser to suggest views or interpretations that were more accurate or effective than their principal’s, while highlighting their principal’s ignorance, and c) would deny the principals their secrets – the source of power, or at least its appearance.

    Trump would add another: his persistent efforts to profit, directly or indirectly, from all his work on the public’s dime.  Tillerson’s a fool if he thinks he can ride on the back of this tiger without ending up inside.

  10. greengiant says:

    The news cycle of the WSJ article on Peter W. Smith and Tait has tailed off. With the hindsight of Buzzfeed’s and Maddow’s experience what was Smith’s agenda in 2016 from the first weeks of July until the middle of September? As noted Smith, a real political operative, was previously a director of the Atlantic Council, neo-con central, (checkmark Mattis for the same ), and had recent connections with the Heritage foundation and Breitbart. https://thinkprogress.org/know-about-peter-w-smith-fd05b9284cbd Why go to Tait when there are already black and white hats with the GOP? Was Smith a cowboy, suffering dementia, laying pipe for a false narrative to attack a Clinton POTUS, or?
    Finally why would Smith choose Murdoch’s WSJ in 2017?

    • P J Evans says:

      WSJ’s reporting is quite good. It’s their editorial policies that are all Murdoch all the time.

      • John Casper says:

        Agree.

        Before they sold(-out) to Rupert in 2007, Bancroft family gave WSJ’s front-page editor latitude the editorial page never dreamed of.

        Don’t think the the latitude is as great under Rupert, but it’s still there.

        Wonder how much the timing of the Bancroft’s sale had to do with preventing the WSJ from reporting about the looming financial collapse? It’s never recovered from that black eye, but it helps Rupert that the NYT’s missed it too.

        • lefty665 says:

          Y’all are both right the front section  of the WSJ has been good, better than Wash Post and NYT in many cases, but you have to be careful not to go too far in, the editorial pages will still rot your brain. WSJ changed in the ’90s after they got their chops busted real hard for editorializing on the front page under the guise of news. WSJ is the only dead tree paper we subscribe to, and has been for this millennium.

  11. greengiant says:

    I used to enjoy reading the WSJ long ago but for decades it has been a revolving door of corrupt journalists. It is not a credit to Fusion GPS’s integrity that the principals cycled through there. There is a difference between well written work for paid agendas and independent reporting. As for long lost glories of the op-ed page read the accumulated works on the Clintons from the 90s and cross reference with Peter W. Smith. It is pretty likely to me that Peter W. Smith’s information fed to Tait and the WSJ interview is some kind of disinformation effort to muddy greater crimes.

    • lefty665 says:

      I often am. I only post on threads where I have something to contribute. That means most topics are Lefty665 free. Peruse them if you wish to avoid my comments. Love and kisses. Lefty665

  12. TGuerrant says:

    Equally significant, IMHO, is the fact that there was no notetaking at the meeting – no record of what positions were taken or what commitments were made.

    Trump and Putin can both lie freely forever more about what they said – not that Trump minds lying even about statements captured on video or made under oath, but the missing record of the Hamburg conversation guarantees he’ll have less to yell at the TV about.

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