March 11, 2019

House Dems Take Critical Steps to Attain Trump’s Interpreter’s Notes

The Hill (02/16/19) Walker, Chris

Committee leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have spoken to the House General Counsel regarding legal means of obtaining notes and other documents from President Donald Trump’s interpreter pertaining to private meetings Trump held with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Representative Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and Representative Eliot Engel, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, have confirmed that the discussions had taken place. Such discussions in the past have generally meant that House leaders are preparing to take the next steps forward on a particular issue.

“I had a meeting with the General Counsel to discuss this and determine the best way to find out what took place in those private meetings with Putin—whether it’s by seeking the interpreter’s testimony, the interpreter’s notes, or other means,” Schiff says. 

The renewed push to obtain documents pertaining to the meetings comes after The Washington Post reignited questions about Trump’s alleged ties with the Kremlin. The Post reported that Trump tried to conceal conversations he had with Putin on multiple occasions, at one point confiscating notes from his interpreter and telling her not to speak to anyone else in the White House about what was discussed. Trump has called the report “ridiculous” while White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called it “outrageously inaccurate.”

Legal experts have said that forcing an interpreter to publicly disclose the details of a confidential conversation between world leaders would be unprecedented. Doing so could also prove to be problematic for future administrations by making it more difficult to conduct face-to-face diplomacy. There’s also a legal argument that the president’s executive privilege extends to the interpreter.

Some Democrats are also hesitant to move forward on subpoenaing Trump’s interpreter, noting that it could hamper future discussions with world leaders if they know interpreters’ notes could be up for grabs. But they say the peculiarities of this specific discussion between Trump and Putin compel them to take such action. “I’m not saying that I’m in favor of interpreters turning over all their notes, but I do think that it shouldn’t be up to the president to hide the notes,” Engel says.