Trump-Appointed Judge Not Convinced That Concealed Notes of Putin Meeting Belong to the President

HELSINKI, FINLAND - JULY 16: U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive to waiting media during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. The two leaders met one-on-one and discussed a range of issues including the 2016 U.S Election collusion.

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the Trump administration’s contention that notes taken by the president’s interpreter during a closed-door meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were not subject to the Federal Records Act.

The lawsuit, filed by liberal watchdog groups American Oversight and Democracy Forward against the State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the National Archives and Records Administration, accuses the administration of violating the federal law by permitting Trump to keep the notes instead of turning them over the State Department, Yahoo News reports.

Trump-appointed District Court Judge Trevor McFadden denied the administration’s motion to dismiss the suit and ordered the attorneys representing the White House to provide the court with an explanation as to why the administration has refused to supply the State Department with the interpreter’s notes after more than two years.

The meeting between the two world leaders occurred during the 2017 G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, and also included then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and an interpreter for each nation.

Following the conclusion of the meeting – which ran more than twice as long as originally scheduled – Trump infamously confronted the interpreter and personally confiscated the notes they had taken during the meeting. Attorneys for the Trump administration argued that “when the president takes into his possession a document, it becomes a presidential record.”

But Judge McFadden was not convinced, telling the government’s attorneys that he had “never seen a principal take notes from an interpreter,” and concluded that such documents do not become presidential records “simply because the president took them.”

As the Washington Post reported in January, the “extraordinary lengths” Trump has gone to in his efforts to conceal details of his meetings with Putin have resulted in U.S. officials having “no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years”:

Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.

Harry Obst, the former head of the State Department’s translation office who worked under seven presidential administrations, told Yahoo News that Trump’s conduct was highly unusual.

“Nobody has ever tried to confiscate my notes,” he said, adding that such a decision would only be made by someone who was “ignorant of the whole process.”

[Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images.]

Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.

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