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House Democrats: White House won’t say what happened to the Trump-Putin translator notes

President  Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg.
President Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg. (Evan Vucci/AP)

White House officials have refused to tell House Democrats what happened to a series of interpreter notes transcribed during President Trump’s private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin — notes the president seized personally to keep them from view.

The House Oversight Committee in a Monday morning letter to the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, doubled down on its request for answers about whether Trump destroyed or in any way altered the interpreter notes, which Democrats argue are federal records that must be preserved under record-keeping laws. 

The Oversight panel joined two additional Democratic-led committees in mid-February to inquire what happened to the documents. The White House, however, has refused to say, House Democrats said. 

Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration

“The Presidential Records Act is at the core of the Oversight Committee’s legislative and oversight jurisdiction, and I had hoped that the White House would cooperate voluntarily with this inquiry,” said House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). “Instead, the White House has disregarded these legitimate congressional inquiries and dissembled about basic facts. These actions do not serve the interests of the American people, and they obstruct and frustrate the Committee’s review.”

The Oversight missive comes just days before Trump will attend the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan, where he could meet with Putin. Trump told NBC News that he “may” discuss Russian interference in the 2020 election with the Russian leader.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have encouraged the president to take a tougher stance against Russia, including by pressing Putin to refrain from interfering in the 2020 election. Trump in the past has refused to do that, however — even at times ignoring the findings of his own intelligence community. 

As part of its probe, the Oversight panel is now requesting a transcribed interview with the director of the White House Office of Records Management or someone who could address the matter. Democrats argue that Trump had no right to seize documents that they believe are congressional records and must be preserved. 

The Washington Post reported in January that Trump, after a meeting with Putin in Hamburg in 2017, had gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of that private conversation, taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials.

U.S. officials trying to receive readouts of the meeting were not able to get them, and there were no detailed records, even in classified form, of what happened — at least back then. It is unclear whether that has been rectified.

Those holes in the record are a break from past presidencies — one particularly jarring given Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the scrutiny the Trump campaign came under during special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.