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White House restricted access to Putin, Saudi transcripts: Report

The White House restricted access to the transcripts of US President Donald Trump’s calls containing sensitive conversations with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Saudi Arabia, according to a media report.

Following the practice put in place after previous leaks, the documents were concealed in the ultra-secure computer system accessible with only the highest security access, The New York Times reported late on Friday, citing current and former officials.

“The Saudi calls placed in the restricted system were with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS] and Prince Khalid bin Salman, who at the time was the Saudi ambassador to the United States,” the report said.

Several current and former officials said it made sense to restrict the calls given the number of leaks from the White House, it added.

Separately, the Washington Post reported on Friday that in 2017, Trump told Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that he was not bothered by Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 US elections because the US did the same in other countries.

Citing three former officials who requested anonymity, the Washington Post said the meeting was held just one day after Trump fired his FBI director James Comey, with the US president telling Lavrov and Kislyak that the sacking had relieved him of “great pressure”.

Ukraine leak

The revelations come the same week a whistle-blower report concerning a phone call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky rocked Washington.

The whistle-blower has said a transcript of the phone call was placed into an ultra-secure system for highly-classified information. The transcript was of a conversation in which Trump urged Zelensky to investigate the son of Joe Biden, the US president’s main Democratic rival.

The disclosures have prompted House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

In a statement to CNN, the White House said on Friday that the move to place the transcript in the system came at the direction of National Security Council (NSC) lawyers.

“NSC lawyers directed that the classified document be handled appropriately,” the statement said.

White House officials say the transcript was already classified so it did nothing wrong by moving it to another system. They did not elaborate on why it was classified even though the conversation did not include state secrets.

Trump insists his actions and words have been “perfect” and the whistle-blower’s complaint might well be the work of “a partisan operative”.

Also on Friday, House Democrats issued a subpoena to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for documents concerning contact with the Ukrainian government.

The House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight Committees which announced the subpoena, also scheduled depositions for five State Department officials over the next two weeks, including former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union and Ambassador Kurt Volker, the US special representative for Ukraine, who resigned on Friday. 


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