In May, The Washington Post dismissed the conspiracy theories that President Obama has made a secret deal with Vladimir Putin after a hot mic moment with then-President Dimitry Medvedev as "another example of how facts no longer matter when it comes to politically sexy allegations." But that hasn't fazed Rep. Mike Turner, a Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. Embracing the kind of tactics you might see from the conspiratorial fringes of the right-wing blogosphere, the Ohio congressman and other Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have been slowly building the case that Americans are being kept dangerously in the dark on the country's proposed missile defense system in Europe. "This isn't a politically sexy allegation," Turner's communications director Tom Crosson tells The Atlantic Wire. "This is a fact."
What kind of facts are we talking about? The key one was the audio of the exchange between Obama and Medvedev captured at the March 26 global nuclear summit in South Korea:
Obama: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.”
Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you . . .”
Obama: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”
Medvedev: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” meaning President Putin.
The exchange made a reasonably big splash (and launched a meme) in the press and forced the president to respond. “This is not a matter of hiding the ball," he said. “The only way I get this stuff done is if I’m consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bipartisan support and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations."
That would appear to be that. But this morning, Turner's office launched its biggest case for the "secret deal" theory yet, which was accompanied by an ominous YouTube video titled “Mr. President, time to tell Americans about your secret deal with the Russians.”
But the exchange is not the only thing Turner cites as proof of a secret deal. There's also this March 2 story in the Russian outlet Ria Novosti, in which Putin opens up about failed talks he had with the U.S. regarding missile defense.
“They made a proposal to us just during the talks, they told us: we would offer you this, this and that. We did not expect this, but I said: we agree. Please put it down on paper,” Putin said.
“We were waiting for their answer for two months. We did not get it, and then our American partners withdrew their own proposals, saying: no, it’s impossible,” he added.
He explained that those “proposals” included guarantees that the U.S.-NATO European missile shield would not be directed against Russia. For example, Russian specialists would be allowed to carry out round-the-clock monitoring of the anti-missile components, and their radars systems would be cemented so that they were directed exactly at Iran and “were technically unable to turn towards Russia.”
While the interview suggests some negotiations took place between the U.S. and Russia regarding the missile defense shield, it does not suggest that a final agreement was ever sealed. It also doesn't prove that a pending deal exists between Putin and Obama. But that isn't preventing Turner from insisting a deal definitely exists.
"The issue of the president's secret deal with the Russians is not one open to interpretation," Turner said on the House floor last week. "This is not an issue of my opinion that there is a secret deal, you can look up Mr. Putin's interview on March 2, 2012 and he says his response was 'we agree.'"
Stoking the flames a bit more, Turner's Monday press release lays out all the events U.S. and Russian officials have met, suggesting that a missile defense plot continues to be secretly hammered out.
Far be it from us to hinder anyone's quest for greater government transparency. But we must admit it's a little odd that this issue, above anything else, is the source of the congressman's attention especially given that there is no sign the president is going to give further attention to the months-old issue. When the hot mic incident first arose in March, Mitt Romney told talk show host Hugh Hewitt this would be a major campaign issue. “The mainstream media may try and put this to bed, but we’re going to keep it alive and awake. And we’re going to keep hammering him with it all the way through November.” When asked if Turner was playing up the issue in light of the president's re-election campaign, Crossan rejected the idea. "We're not asking this because it's a campaign issue, we're asking this because it's a national security issue," he said. "Americans have a right to know what the president has planned for them."