For most Americans, the words “Trump” and “Russia” undoubtedly bring to mind the long list of controversies, investigations, and accusations that have hounded the president for months.
It's an association that, as National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told ABC News, has taken a heavy toll on President Donald Trump's effort to “reset” diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Russia — something that Trump promised to do a number of times throughout his campaign.
It was a point that came up Sunday, when “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos asked McMaster — who was speaking from Saudi Arabia, where Trump has kicked off his first diplomatic trip abroad — what the president's goal was when he allegedly told Russian officials: “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off.”
In response, McMaster, who was in the room when Trump allegedly made the comment, replied that he doesn't “remember exactly what the president said,” adding:
“But the gist of the conversation was that the president feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been obviously so much in the news. And that was the intention of that portion of that conversation.”
McMaster — who has repeatedly defended Trump's interactions with the Russians during that White House meeting — outlined some of the president's specific frustrations:
“But as I mentioned he raised it in the context of explaining that that he has been — feels as if he's been unable to find areas of cooperation with Russia, even as he confronts them in key areas where they're being disruptive, like Syria for example, and the subversive activities across Europe. Their support for the — not only the Assad regime but for Iran and its activities across the Middle East.”
The national security advisor also noted that he is “really concerned” about the leaks coming out of the White House, saying that it's sometimes necessary to have “frank, candid, and often times unconventional conversations to try to protect American interests and secure the American people.”
Stephanopoulos also challenged McMaster on the optics of that conversation, asking if he understands “how this might look ... to an average American.”
In response, McMaster noted that — as a journalist — Stephanopoulos must understand how it's “very difficult to take a few lines” out of that entire meeting and “be able to see the full context of the conversation.”