A shocking report in Sunday’s Washington Post revealed that President Donald Trump has taken measures to keep his own administration officials in the dark regarding his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a result, Democrats are now demanding access to interpreters for the two men, CNN, and The Hill report.
At one point, Trump even took away his interpreter’s notes. He’s also demanded that U.S. officials also be kept in the dark about the talks.
According to CNN, the president allegedly confiscated the interpreter’s notes after a 2017 meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany. He then told the interpreter not to share anything about the discussion with anyone. That’s according to a former State Department official who was in Hamburg as the meeting took place. Senior White House and State officials requested the notes on the meeting but didn’t receive them, the source said.
Additionally, another former State Department official told CNN that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn’t provide U.S. ambassadors in the region a readout of the meeting. Instead, “Tillerson played stuff pretty close to his chest,” the source said, adding this typical for Tillerson.
And the revelations that Trump allegedly practiced such secrecy is worrisome to Senate Democrats. This includes Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) who are ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and the Armed Services committees, respectively. In a letter to Trump, Menendez and Reed have asked that the interpreters be made available for congressional interviews.
“In light of the continuing level of secrecy shrouding your interactions with the Russian leader, we insist that the interpreter for these interactions, especially the individual who interpreted for your meeting with President Putin in Helsinki, be made immediately available for interviews with the relevant committees in Congress,” they wrote.
But that’s not all. The New York Times reported last week that law enforcement officials became seriously concerned after Trump’s abrupt firing of then-FBI Director James Comey in 2017, so they began investigating whether Trump was secretly carrying out an anti-American agenda in favor of Russia.
“Your insistence on secrecy related to these interactions, even with your own staff, is alarming, unprecedented, and could be in violation of The Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act,” Reed and Menendez wrote in the letter Wednesday.
And they pushed for Trump to reveal the conversations.
“We believe it to be in the national security interests of the United States that any record of these conversations be preserved and immediately provided to Congress.”
At least some Democrats aren’t dismissing the idea that subpoenaing the interpreters may be an option they will have to consider.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) is the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and in an interview with CNN’s Kate Bolduan on At This Hour he said his committee plans to work with the House Intelligence panel to obtain the interpreter’s notes.
“We’re going to try to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
He added, however, that there haven’t been any decisions regarding the subpoenas just yet. Engel noted that while he hopes it doesn’t come down to this, it may be the way the situation has to be.
“But we may have no choice,” he told Bolduan. “We’ll have to see down the road what happens.”
Here’s a clip of Engel’s interview below.
“I wouldn't make promises in terms of what we are going to do,” Engel added. pic.twitter.com/uQh30Sc3G2
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) January 14, 2019
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is also a member of the Intelligence Committee and in a tweet, he indicated Democrats intend to put public pressure on Republicans to support this.
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?” https://t.co/hzgfTRl653
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 13, 2019
Monday on CNN, Schiff had this to say:
“If the Washington Post is accurate — and the only written memorialization of what happened in that meeting is in Russian hands because the American copy … has been destroyed, that’s a pretty terrible risk we are running not knowing what happened in a private meeting. We are looking at our remedies but we haven’t made a decision yet. Chairman Engel and I are conferring.”
The Trump administration frequently claims it has taken a tough stance on Russia and has imposed sanctions on Kremlin officials. It’s also indicated it may withdraw from a key nuclear pact. But there’s no denying that Trump has often used sympathetic rhetoric when describing Putin, a worrisome fact for lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are investigating potential ties between his election campaign and Russia in 2016.
Trump has continually criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s lengthy investigation as a “witch hunt,” maintaining there was no collusion during the election.
Once again, all I can say is “stay tuned.”
You can find out more about The Washington Post’s revelations in the video below.