(ABC) – Ahead of a planned meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Japan, President Donald Trump on Wednesday said what he talks about with the Russian president is “none of your business.”
That kind of dismissal has fueled concerns about their previous meetings, some of which are under investigation by Congress over reports that Trump destroyed translators’ notes afterwards or met without any U.S. officials present. The reported destruction of notes is also the subject of lawsuits that allege the Trump administration has violated federal laws about records preservation.
Trump and Putin are scheduled to meet Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. The Kremlin said the two will meet for about an hour and talk about U.S.-Russian relations and regional issues such as Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Iran, and Ukraine, according to Putin aide Yuri Ushakov.
It’s that last topic that soured the chance of a meeting last time. Days before Trump and Putin were to meet at the G20 in November in Argentina, the U.S. canceled because Russia had seized 24 Ukrainian sailors and three vessels in international waters.
“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!” Trump tweeted at the time.
Trump ended up speaking to Putin during the G20 leaders’ dinner in Buenos Aires. The White House described the encounter as an “informal conversation,” but no staff were present for it.
Ukraine’s sailors remain in pre-trial detention in Moscow.
House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, announced on Monday that his committee sent a follow-up letter to Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, demanding information about Trump’s meetings with Putin in July 2017 and July 2018.
After Trump and Putin met for two hours with only their translators in Helsinki, Finland, in the 2018 summit, U.S. officials reportedly had difficulty getting a full readout of the meeting. Top aides including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said publicly they had been “fully” briefed. After the July 2017 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, where Trump was accompanied by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a U.S. translator, Trump reportedly took the translator’s notes.
That would constitute a violation of the Presidential Records Act, according to watchdog groups like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and American Oversight. Both groups are among the plaintiffs in two separate lawsuits against the Trump administration for allegedly destroying these records.
“This may be the only written record of a meeting between two heads of state, and the interpreter’s notes can’t be seized or destroyed just because President Trump might want them hidden,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, last week. “The law requires that the interpreter’s notes are recovered and preserved.”
In a letter dated March 21, the White House counsel Pat Cipollone said the administration had already provided information on some of the committee’s questions and Congress wasn’t entitled to answers on others: “Information concerning the conduct of foreign affairs is, constitutionally, within the exclusive control of the Executive Branch and Congress cannot demand its disclosure,” Cipollone wrote.
In response, House Democrats have weighed using subpoenas to compel testimony, including from the State Department translators present in Trump’s meetings — an unprecedented move.
The Trump administration has been trying to win Russia over as a partner on the world stage and peel it away from its ally Iran. Secretary Pompeo met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Putin in May and said afterwards they had made progress on Syria, Afghanistan, and North Korea. National Security Adviser John Bolton had a series of meetings this week in Israel with his Israeli and Russian counterparts on the way forward in Syria.
But after their meeting Tuesday, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev made clear Russia stands by Iran, saying the U.S. drone the Iranian military shot done was in its airspace and supporting the country’s military presence in neighboring Syria.
Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia would not bend to U.S. wishes: “The U.S. begins to understand the futility of its counterproductive demands that Russia should change its independent policy and follow the approaches unilaterally promoted by the United States on the international arena.”
ABC News’s Patrick Reevell contributed to this report from Moscow.