On Monday, three House Democratic committee chairmen made a formal demand for interviews with any translators who were there to witness the communications President Trump made with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The request, which includes anything that has been said since Trump’s inauguration, is sure to be met with significant resistance from the White House.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo received a letter from Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel, and the Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings. The letter stated that they wanted to know if any of the communications between Trump and Putin have led to the “reconsideration, modification, or implementation” of any part of American foreign policy.
The chairmen are looking for access to any State Department employees and contractors that might have information about Trump’s communications with Putin, including “linguists, translators, or interpreters who participated in [sic] attended, or in any way listened in on President Trump’s in-person meetings with President Putin as well as President Trump’s phone calls with President Putin.” They’re also interested in finding out if Trump or anyone acting on his behalf has “failed to create records of, or in any way destroyed, suppressed, mishandled, or otherwise withheld any federal or presidential records” that go against federal laws.
In January, the Washington Post reported that after Trump’s meeting with Putin in Germany in 2017, Trump took the notes from his interpreter and instructed the person not to speak to anyone, including those in the Trump administration, about what had happened during the official meeting.
Trump was accompanied to the meeting with Putin by the then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Ever since he was terminated from his position, Rex has come out as a major vocal critic of Trump’s administration, but he’s never claimed to have any knowledge of anything unexpected happening at the meeting.
The Washington Post also stated that there aren’t any records of Trump having any private meetings with Putin throughout the past two years. But administration officials still haven’t received a full readout of the one-on-one meeting in Helsinki, Finland that took place last summer. After the Washington Post made their report, California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell accused Trump of “effectively” destroying notes from the summit in Helsinki, which included notes that were taken during a private meeting between Trump and Putin with only their translators present in the room. Trump explained to Fox News anchor Jeanine Pirro that he would be more than willing to release the transcripts of the meeting with Putin, claiming that he didn’t care if they were released or not. “I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less. I had a conversation like every president does. You sit with the president of various countries. I do it with all countries,” Trump said to Pirro.
Schiff posted on Twitter on Monday: “Last year, we sought to obtain the interpreter’s notes or testimony, from the private meeting between Trump and Putin. The Republicans on our committee voted us down. Will they join us now? Shouldn’t we find out whether our president is really putting America first?”
Trump’s decision to ask an interpreter to remain quiet about what happened during his meeting with foreign leaders could have something to do with the previous leaks of private conversations that Trump had with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
When Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway was asked about the president’s instructions to the interpreter, she said that “the president was suffering from leaks,” in reference to the details that were released about his calls with the Australian and Mexican leaders.
Despite the fact that the request for translator interviews was made, House Democrats also opened up another avenue in their Trump investigation. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee requested documents from dozens of people in Trump’s life, including people from his administration, his business, and his family. Chairman Jerry Nadler explained that the committee requested documents from 81 agencies and individuals. He explained that it was a part of the investigation of “alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Trump.”