Democratic leaders in the House are taking steps to attempt to force Donald Trump to reveal what he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed during several private conversations after Trump took office.
According to Politico, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said they are in discussions with the House general counsel about a path to legally force the White House to turn over documents and other related information about Trump’s private conversations with Putin.
Trump and Putin have held these private chats at five locations in the past two years, and no official records exist about what exactly was discussed. Last month, The Washington Post reported that Trump even seized notes from his own interpreter after one meeting in Hamburg, Germany, in 2017.
Trump and Putin also met privately in Helsinki, Finland, last July, after which Trump acted more like the Russian president’s lap dog than the leader of the free world.
“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.
Democrats are particularly interested in the Helsinki meeting because Trump countered his own intelligence community by claiming that Russia wasn’t involved in the attack on 2016 elections in the U.S.—elections that put Trump in office. It is widely known that Russia was, in fact, behind the attacks.
Per the report:
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.
Schiff and Engel have left all options on the table, including issuing subpoenas, which the White House would surely fight.
The first question that arises is whether the Trump administration would be able to invoke executive privilege. Schiff doesn’t appear to believe, at least initially, that executive privilege would apply. The reason, he told Politico, is that executive privilege would apply to conversations between the president and key members of his administration, but not with foreign leaders. Courts have yet to litigate such a scenario, the report noted.
“They [White House lawyers] would try to say, for the same reason that the Supreme Court recognized communications between the president and his staff to be privileged, the court should recognize a similar privilege for communications with foreign heads of government because of the need for sensitivity,” former House General Counsel Thomas Hungar told Politico.