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White House stiff arms House panels on any information related to Trump’s secret Putin talks

US President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)

In a highly predictable move, the White House refused to cooperate Thursday with congressional requests for information regarding Donald Trump’s private conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone argued that both constitutional principle and executive privilege shield a president’s diplomatic communications from congressional oversight. 

“The committees’ letters cite no legal authority for the proposition that another branch of the government can force the president to disclose diplomatic communications with foreign leaders or that supports forcing disclosure of the confidential internal deliberations of the president’s national security advisors,” Cipollone wrote in a five-page letter to three House committee chairs that was obtained by Politico.

Cipollone’s letter to House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings, Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel, and Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff follows a now-established White House pattern of stonewalling all congressional oversight efforts. The three Democrats had sought both documents and testimony from people at the White House and State Department with information related to Trump’s mysterious communications with Putin, including their in-person meetings and telephone calls.

Since being elected, Trump has reportedly communicated with Putin a total of 18 times that we know of, including four letters, nine phone calls, and five in-person meetings. Trump has gone to “extraordinary lengths” to conceal the content of his conversations with Putin, once seizing the notes of his own interpreter, instructing another not to discuss what transpired, and one time even foregoing having his own interpreter present and simply using Putin’s instead.

Cipollone argued that precedent is on the executive branch’s side. 

“It is settled law that the Constitution entrusts the conduct of foreign relations exclusively to the Executive Branch, as it makes the President ‘the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations,’” Cipollone wrote.

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