On Sunday evening, the nation learned that there had been another phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. That in itself might seem alarming, considering that Trump has just been impeached for taking actions against a U.S. ally, actions that supported Russian military efforts. But what’s really jaw-dropping in this case is how the nation learned of that phone call.
U.S. news agencies learned of the call in a release from the Kremlin. Because for a full day after the call, the White House did not release any readout of the conversation. In fact, it wasn’t until late on Monday morning, after Russian media had spent the evening reporting that Trump and Putin spoke on “matters of mutual interest,” that the White House even admitted that there had been a call.
The Kremlin readout indicates only that the call took place at 10:45 ET and was initiated by Putin, and that Putin “thanked Donald Trump” for information that supposedly helped prevent “the commission of terrorist acts in Russia.” Exactly what this information was is not clear, but two Russian nationals were apparently detained in St. Petersburg on Friday based on the information provided by the U.S. Also unclear is whether the release of this information generated a threat to U.S. intelligence sources or provided an excuse for Putin to move against political opponents. In September, Russian police made mass arrests of political opponents as revenge for losses in local elections.
The only comment from the White House echoes what the Kremlin said on Sunday—that the U.S. sent information to Russia that “helped foil a potential holiday terrorist attack.” According to CNN, this is the first time Putin and Trump have spoken since July. This is the second time that Trump has forwarded information that Putin credits with stopping terrorism in Russia, which suggests that Trump actually does believe U.S. intelligence agencies on Russia … when they’re not talking about him.