February 19, 2019
What happened—in Hamburg in July 2017 and in Helsinki in July 2018—will remain there, if it’s up to the two global leaders who participated in those meetings: Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Apparently there are secrets that the American president has gone to great lengths to suppress—confiscating his translator’s notes of the Hamburg meeting; and allowing no detailed records of his private Helsinki sit-down , according to a recent report by Politico.
But with that silence comes an opportunity for coercion by Putin, who holds Trump’s secrets close at a cost: Intelligence officials fear that Putin may have compromised the American president, who could be following the Russian’s dangerous agenda out of fear of exposure and reprisals.
The chairmen of two powerful congressional oversight panel—Representative Adam Schiff (D-California) of the Intelligence Committee and Representative Eliot Engel (D-New York) of the Foreign Affairs Committee—told Politico late last week that “they are exploring options to legally compel the president to disclose his private conversations with the Russian president.”
The two lawmakers told the political news outlet that they are “actively consulting” with House General Counsel Douglas Letter about the best way to legally compel the Trump administration to come clean.
“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 — whether it’s by seeking the interpreter’s testimony, the interpreter’s notes, or other means,” Schiff, told Politico in an interview.
According to the February 16 story, the move underscores the seriousness with which Democrats view Trump’s conciliatory statements and actions toward Moscow; and its place as a top House priority as the party pursues wide-ranging investigations into the president and his administration.
Specifically, Politico reported, Democrats want a window into the Helskini meeting last summer, during which Trump put himself at odds with the U.S. intelligence community and declared—while standing next to the Russian president—that the Kremlin did not interfere in the 2016 elections.
“I don’t see any reason why [Russia would interfere with the 2016 election],” he said at the extraordinary news conference following the private confabulation.
Trump’s remark prompted Democrats to call for Marina Gross, the State Department translator who was the only other American present for the Trump-Putin meeting, to share her notes with Congress and testify in public.
Getting Gross’s notes and testimony may be a challenging task, Schiff admitted—noting possible legal roadblocks, including executive privilege.
“That’s a privilege that, based on first impression, is designed to facilitate consultations between the president and members of his staff and Cabinet — not to shield communications with a foreign leader,” Schiff said. “But that’s just a preliminary take. And once we get the studied opinion of the general counsel, then we’ll decide how to go forward.”
For his part, Engel told Politico, “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.”
The White House is expected to fight divulging the details of the discussions every step of the way.
Research contact: @desiderioDC