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14 Jan, 2019 18:47

Fixated on collusion, Dems seeking (again) to subpoena interpreter present at Trump-Putin meeting

Fixated on collusion, Dems seeking (again) to subpoena interpreter present at Trump-Putin meeting

Convinced of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, Democrats want to subpoena an interpreter present at a 2017 meeting between Trump and Putin, in what would be a highly controversial and unprecedented move.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democrat Eliot Engel, said in an interview with CNN on Monday that congress may have “no choice” but to subpoena the interpreter, after the Washington Post reported at the weekend that Trump had “seized” notes from the interpreter following the 2017 meeting, which was in Hamburg, Germany.

In a separate statement, Engel said that Americans “deserve the truth” when it comes to “the mysteries swirling around Trump’s bizarre relationship with Putin” and how their “dark dealings” affect US national security.

Missing from Engel’s statement, however, was the fact that after two years of investigations by both US Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI, there is still no actual evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the election, despite ‘Russiagate’ faithfuls being convinced that a silver bullet is on the way.

The Post acknowledged that the prospect of subpoenaing interpreters was causing “trepidation” among lawmakers and that the unusual suggestion raises “a host of ethical and practical questions” for the presidency, going forward.

If an interpreter can be subpoenaed on the basis that the opposing party simply wants access and insight into a president’s political dealings, that could set a dangerous precedent and leave future administrations open to abuses that would threaten the privacy of diplomatic talks.

It’s not the first time that Democrats have attempted to subpoena an interpreter in their quest for any shred of evidence to prove that Trump and Putin are in cahoots. The suggestion was also made after the two leaders met in Helsinki last July, when State Department interpreter Marina Gross was the only other person in the room.

Also on rt.com ‘Absolutely not’: GOP says questioning Trump’s translator would end presidential diplomacy

Democrats called for Gross to testify, but Republicans shot down the idea, arguing it would be inappropriate and would jeopardize future presidents and their ability to negotiate with other leaders. At the time, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said if Gross were forced before congress, “that would be the last time you ever have a foreign leader meet with a president of the US privately” because trust would be lost.

Democrats, on the other hand, have contended that, while subpoenaing interpreters would indeed be unprecedented, Trump’s own actions justify it. “Trump’s actions are unprecedented in a way that harms national security,” Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. wrote in a letter to the House Oversight Committee in July, suggesting that Trump in his meetings with Putin could have “revealed national security secrets, or tried to profit off the presidency.”

Confidentiality is one of the cornerstones of the job of diplomatic interpreters, ensuring that participants in high-stakes meetings feel fully comfortable speaking in their presence. The American Translators Association's code of ethics says that translators and interpreters must "hold in confidence" any privileged information they become privy to during the course of their work. If any interpreter were forced before congress, however, they would be required to testify under oath and could be tried for perjury if they misled the public in any way, putting them in a highly precarious situation.

When it comes to the 2017 Hamburg meeting, there were other officials in the room with Trump and Putin, which means that it would not all be down to one interpreter to recount what was said. Trump himself has denied reports that he’d seized an interpreter’s notes after a meeting with Putin, calling it “fake news” and saying that private meetings with Putin were “no big deal.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Intelligence Committee are still deliberating over whether or not they should subpoena the interpreter in question.

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