The Biden White House did not comment on whether it saw the content of the calls. But at least the National Security Council has so far not registered a complaint about being able to access the relevant call records of the previous administration.
“It’s a national security priority to find out what Trump said to Putin during his four years in office,” said one former national security official close to the new president. “Some things, like what happened in a few face-to-face meetings where no American translator or notary was present, can never be fully known. But I would be very surprised if the new national security team didn’t try to access the call records.
Trump also formally closely monitored his private conversations with foreign executives until some were hidden in the NSC’s top-secret codeword system to restrict access for employees and even cabinet members and prevent leaks. Their calls were often first received from the Kremlin, or Trump’s Twitter feed. But although the calls were not recorded, the assistants were usually still on the line and took notes of what was said. The loose transcripts thus obtained are called “memcons” or conversation memoranda.
Trump has made a particularly great effort to keep his personal conversations with the Russian leader secret, from the confiscation of his interpreter’s notes to resigning American translators and clerks at meetings. This desire for secrecy spread even during his time in office. A former Trump official argued last week that records of Trump’s conversations with Putin, which often lasted an hour or more, should not be made available to his successor.
“There are things a president and his immediate staff must have the privilege of doing the work of the government without being exposed to constant partisan toys.” said Trump, a former White White House official.
The memcons, including Trump’s appeals to Putin, are considered presidential records and were not destroyed until the 45th president left office, a former Trump White House official said. With the expiration of Trump’s term, as usual, they were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration.
“Of course, we didn’t delete anything and they will be in NARA and will be available,” the official said.
Kel McClanahan, executive director of the Law Office of National Security Consultants, agreed on a legal issue: “The only person who can claim leadership privileges anywhere is the president,” he said. “So there’s literally no situation like a former president preventing the seated president from seeing something.”
Trump’s interactions with Putin and other Russian officials were, of course, far removed from the normally carefully choreographed talks of world leaders — in the early stages of Trump’s term, he went so far as to share secret information with Russian diplomats in the Russian Oval Office.
But according to Trump’s senior advisers, it was rare for Trump to say anything to the Russian leader that he hadn’t said publicly yet (or later simply unfold while complaining about the “Russian hoax”). Marina Gross, who interpreted Trump’s many calls and meetings with Putin, told her staff that listening to their conversations, a former official said they often hear them chatting in two bars.
Nevertheless, the shadow diplomacy campaigns that flourished during the Trump administration are also paramount for the Biden team as they work to understand the often fragmented policies of the past four years. Trump’s malicious call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which led to his accountability, was also hidden in the NSC’s codeword system, as were Trump’s calls to the Saudi royal family.
“It’s much bigger than Russia and Putin,” another Trump administration official said. “This is a general problem for the new team – basically trying to find out what happened [Trump] promise people left and center? “
John Eisenberg, a former attorney general at Trump NSC who was involved in placing the president’s calls on the top-secret server, will now be a Trump representative who handles Biden’s White House registration requests, a person familiar with the case says.
The review of Biden NSC in Russia is led in part by Eric Green, the council’s executive director for Russia and Central Asia, a veteran foreign service officer who has specialized in the State Department in Russia for years. Green recently replaced Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who left for personal reasons.
Biden and Trump NSC staff consulted on a number of issues, including Russia during the transition. Officials said this was generally thorough. In the days and weeks leading up to Biden’s inauguration, Trump’s resigning NSC staff handed over material-filled binders, including intelligence reports, strategy papers, and information on ongoing operations, to facilitate a smooth transition.
The incoming national security team has similarly tasted its predecessors in the commitments and commitments it has made to the Trump administration’s allies and opponents, including Russia. Some of Trump’s staff — primarily staff from other federal agencies — remained in the NSC after Jan. 20 for the sake of continuity of government and were helpful in answering questions from the new NSC.
“We tried a lot to do well,” said Trump’s second former official who was involved in the process.