Vladimir Putin knows where the shoe will pinch most.
The Russian president Wednesday ridiculed the outcry in the U.S. over President Donald Trump’s unauthorized sharing of classified information with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, saying that he’s ready to turn over a transcript of that meeting to the Senate—but only if the U.S. administration agrees.
Responding to allegations that he had passed highly-classified information sourced by an allied power without its permission, Trump said Tuesday that he had had “the absolute right” to share with Russia “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.” The allied power in question is Israel, it emerged later in the day. Critics said the incident could make other countries less likely to share sensitive intelligence with the U.S. in the future. Trump’s liberality with the Israeli intelligence stood in stark contrast to his many tweets about the need to close down leaks against him coming out of the White House and Congress.
At a joint press conference Wednesday with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin said: “If the U.S. administration wants, we would be willing to provide the transcript of the conversation between President Trump and Minister Lavrov to the U.S. Senate.”
He went on to mock Trump’s critics, complaining that, “I had to rebuke our Foreign Minister because he failed to share those secrets with us…that’s a very poor performance on his part.” Camera footage from the state-owned TV agency Ruptly cut away at that point to Lavrov laughing heartily in the audience.
Putin, whom U.S. intelligence heads suspect of having ordered widespread cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns to influence last year’s presidential election, accused the U.S. of having developed “political schizophrenia,” and urged Americans to cut the president some slack, stressing all the while his desire not to interfere in “an internal matter for the U.S.”
“When we saw this political struggle unfolding it seemed ridiculous at first,” Putin said. “But today it’s not just sad, it’s really worrying, because people who come up with such nonsense—I don’t know what they will come up with next…Either they don’t realize that they’re hurting their own country, which means they’re dumb, or they understand it perfectly well, and this means they’re dangerous.”
Trump had met Lavrov in the Oval Office of the White House the day after firing James Comey as director of the FBI. Lavrov had been accompanied by Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, whose contact with Trump’s first choice as national security adviser, Michael Flynn, are at the heart of an FBI probe into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign last year. The New York Times and others reported Tuesday that Trump had asked Comey to shut down a separate, but related, investigation into then-National Security Adviser Flynn, shortly before firing him. The reports sourced a memo written by Comey immediately after their conversation.