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Collusion Question From Helsinki Summit Varies By Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're going to dig into one of the key moments in Monday's news conference between President Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin and a head-scratching omission from the official transcript. One of the big revelations from the summit is that, for the first time, Putin publicly acknowledged that he wanted President Trump to win the 2016 election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

SHAPIRO: "Yes, I wanted him to win," Putin said, "because he talked about normalizing Russian-American relations." So what question did the reporter ask to elicit that answer? If you listen to the audio from C-SPAN, you'll hear Reuters reporter Jeff Mason speaking over the Russian-to-English interpreter here. That interpreter was giving the tail end of Putin's previous answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: They all can be found in an appropriate legal framework.

JEFF MASON: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Russian).

MASON: And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

SHAPIRO: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election? And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that? A two-part question, but Putin responded only to the first part. He said he wanted Trump to win. Now let's listen to a different audio recording from the White House YouTube page. This one cut off the first half of Jeff Mason's question entirely.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: ...Legal framework.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Russian).

MASON: And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

SHAPIRO: And the official government transcripts of this event are just as murky. As the Atlantic points out, the Kremlin's English language transcript omits the exchange entirely. And the White House transcript, like its video, doesn't have the first half of Jeff Mason's question. So in the U.S. government's official version of this explosive news conference, the question did you want President Trump to win the election is not there. Today, we asked the White House to explain the omission and have not yet received a response.

Jeff Mason is the reporter who asked this question. He is still in Europe. And when I reached him there today, I asked him to describe that moment.

MASON: I had sat down already. I had asked a question to President Trump. And then I had stood up again and asked a question to President Putin. And I was holding on to the mike. And someone was sort of pulling the cord for me to give it up, but I gripped it...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

MASON: ...Thinking I might just get one more in. And at the end of his response, that was the question I wanted to get at. And it got that pretty direct response from him - yes, I did.

SHAPIRO: And can you give us any insight into why part of that might have been on mike and part of it off mike?

MASON: I can't really. I don't know if the mike was partially turned off or turned off when the presidents were speaking and then turned back on again once we had a chance for a question. I don't know if it was a glitch. I really have no insight into why that happened.

SHAPIRO: Do you think President Putin heard both parts of your question, both the did you want Trump to win and the did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

MASON: I think it's open for interpretation. But I think if you look critically at it and, in particular, listen to what he was saying earlier, he as well as President Trump were denying any kind of collusion. So my suspicion is he heard the first part of my question and may not have heard the second part.

SHAPIRO: Does this seem consequential to you?

MASON: Well, it seems like something that ought to be corrected, in any case. I don't have the impression that there was any kind of nefarious intent. But I do think that it's important to have it corrected in the record because the question was important. And if you don't have that first part of the question, it changes the meaning of the answer.

SHAPIRO: You and I both covered the White House for years, and we are accustomed to seeing corrections of the White House transcripts. But I can't remember an exchange that was quite so central that went uncorrected for quite so long.

MASON: It's very central. There's no question about it. And it's not like you can hide it. It's very clear if you go back and listen to my question on television or on video or a digital recording what I asked.

SHAPIRO: Jeff Mason of Reuters. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MASON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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