Over the last few hours the Western media has filled with stories of how during their recent meeting in the Oval Office US President Donald Trump supposedly told Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that former FBI Director James Comey was a “nut job”, which was why he dismissed him.
The story, which first appeared in the New York Times, is very specific
President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”
The conversation, during a May 10 meeting — the day after he fired Mr. Comey — reinforces the notion that the president dismissed him primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives. Mr. Trump said as much in one televised interview, but the White House has offered changing justifications for the firing.
The comments represented an extraordinary moment in the investigation, which centers in part on the administration’s contacts with Russian officials: A day after firing the man leading that inquiry, Mr. Trump disparaged him — to Russian officials.
The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.
(bold italics added)
The words I have highlighted serve to confirm a point I have made previously about the sort of records that both the US and the Russians would have made of this meeting
To repeat my explanation from before, at any high level diplomatic meeting senior officials are accompanied by interpreters whose job is not just to translate what is said but also to make a verbatim written record of what is said.
Both the US and Russians would have had such people present at the meeting between Trump and Lavrov, and both sets of these people would have made a verbatim record of what was said during the meeting.
These records – scribbled by the interpreters in shorthand – are then written up into a proper transcript and are if necessary circulated to other senior officials and throughout the bureaucracy. They then become an essential part of the diplomatic archive of whichever country the officials taking part in the meeting belong to.
It is through consulting such transcripts when archives are opened that diplomatic historians can reconstruct the course of negotiations when they write their diplomatic histories. In the meantime it is a fundamental rule of international diplomacy that until that happens – usually many decades later – records like these are kept confidential, and are not released without the agreement of both sides taking part in the discussions.
The New York Times article confirm the point I made (though in truth no such confirmation should be needed), which is that both the US and Russia have verbatim transcripts of Trump’s meeting with Lavrov, written up from shorthand notes made during the meeting by their respective team of interpreters. Putin has offered to provide Congress with Russia’s transcript, and following Putin’s offer there is now no reason why the US cannot provide Congress with its own transcript.
Putin’s offer has however been ridiculed and refused. With the New York Times story we see the result. Instead of both transcripts being made public – making it possible for us to know what was actually said during the meeting – our old friends the anonymous officials are now able to leak selectively from the US transcript.
One of the consistent features of the whole Russiagate scandal is that anonymous sources are consistently preferred to open ones. This episode – in which anonymous leaks from a document are preferred to an offer of the document itself – is an extreme example.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has now responded to this story by denying that the subject of Comey’s dismissal was discussed during the Oval Office meeting at all. This is how the Russian news agency Interfax reports his comments
16:13EX-FBI DIRECTOR COMEY’S DISMISSAL WASN’T DISCUSSED DURING MEETING WITH TRUMP – LAVROV
We did not touch on that topic at all.