Secret dealings: Trump 'switched off recorders' during Putin call

Secret dealings: Trump 'switched off recorders' during Putin call
Trump team accused of acting shadily during call with Vladimir Putin, amid speculation that the US president will allow foreign money, including Russian funds, into US elections.
3 min read
03 February, 2017
The White House released a one-line readout on Trump and Putin's call [AFP]
US President Donald Trump's team reportedly turned off the recorders during his first conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Saturday - a day in which the new president shared heated exchanges with other world leaders.

The White House later released a one-line readout summarising the call's alleged contents.

This lack of information from the Trump-Putin conversation has further fed speculation about Russian interference in the White House, particularly given that much more has emerged about the President's other calls that day. 

In a call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump blasted the Australian leader after he asked whether the US would honour an agreement to take in 1,250 refugees currently at an Australian detention centre.

"This is the worst deal ever," the former business tycoon fumed, adding that Australia was looking to export the "next Boston bombers" to America.

Trump then abruptly ended the conversation - one which was dominated by badgering, boasts about his electoral win and the refugee issue - after just twenty-five minutes.

Before dropping the phone, however, the US president told Turnbull that he had already spoken to four other world leaders that day, and that this was "the worst call by far".

According to AP, the president also told Mexican leader Enrique Pena Nieto that "You have a bunch of bad hombres down there," and threatened that if Mexico was not willing to do anything about them, America would intervene.

"You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it," he said.

Green-lighting Russian money in US elections?

The details, or indeed lack of them, about Trump's call with Putin comes amid further speculation about the new president allowing Russia to interfere in US politics.

On Thursday, the president declared that he would "get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment" in order to allow "representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution".

The remarks were made during the president's annual prayer breakfast in Washington.

Trump's opponents have accused him of pandering to Russian interests [Getty]

While his words were directed at religious freedoms in America, analysts have highlighted that repealing the Johsnon Amendment could provide foreign powers - notably Russia - to channel funds towards US election campaigns.

This is because repealing the amendment would allow churches - which are easily set up in America - to contribute to campaigns. Crucially, churches are not required to disclose who their donors are.

"The Russian, Chinese, Saudi, and Iranian governments would all, predictably, either find congregations already recognised by the IRS to use as front groups or incorporate new ones," New York University public law professor Mark Kleiman told Mother Jones.

"Of course a group organised as a mosque might not be able to wield much influence without stirring up opposition, but nothing bars the Saudis or the Iranians from paying some stooges to set up a fake Baptist church".

If the move does go ahead, it would come as one of several measures that Trump has taken, or is expected to take, that could increase Russian influence in Washington.

This week, the Trump administration loosened sanctions imposed by Barack Obama on Russia's Federal Security Service, making it easier for American firms to trade with the intelligence agency.

The sanctions, which were originally introduced in 2015, were tightened late last year amid fears of Russian interference in US political parties.