Open the vaults!
President Biden and his national security team have several reasons to learn what former President Donald Trump said to Russian President Vladimir Putin in their dozen-plus conversations. One of them is probably curiosity. "Trump closely guarded his private conversations with foreign leaders while in office, going as far as to have some hidden in the [National Security Council's] top-secret codeword system to limit staffers' and even Cabinet members' access and prevent leaks," Politico notes. Americans typically found out about his conversations with Putin from the Kremlin.
But there are also practical reasons, Politico underscores. "Understanding what was said between the two could help illuminate whether Trump ever revealed sensitive information or struck any deals with the Kremlin leader that could take the new administration by surprise."
"It is a national security priority to find out what Trump said to Putin," a former national security official close to Biden told Politico. "Some things, like what happened in some face-to-face meetings where no American translator or note-taker was present, may never be fully known." But other conversations were memorialized in rough transcripts, called "memcons," or memorandums of conversation, and Biden now has full access to them. Probably.
"They don't need our approval to see those," a former Trump White House official told Politico. "Biden owns all the call materials. There is only one president at a time." Another former Trump official argued that the Putin calls should be kept private, but legally that doesn't fly, said Kel McClanahan, executive director of the law firm National Security Counselors. "There is literally no situation, nor could there be, where a former president could keep a sitting president from seeing something."
Then "memcons" are considered presidential records and were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration, a former Trump White House official told Politico. Biden officials did not disclose if they had seen the call records, but they have also not complained about not having access to them.
And the calls may not end up being all that illuminating, former senior Trump advisers told Politico, noting that Marina Gross, who acted as Trump's interpreter on many of his interactions with Putin, "told associates that listening to their conversations often felt like eavesdropping on two friends chatting in a bar." Read more at Politico.