President Trump unlawfully seized notes created by a State Department interpreter during a private meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, and Secretary Pompeo has failed to recover and preserve these agency records. President Trump has made repeated attempts to conceal the content of his multiple meetings with President Putin. In his first meeting with the Russian government, President Trump is reported to have revealed highly classified information to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister.

We alleged that Secretary Pompeo’s failure to recover these State Department notes violated the Federal Records Act. Secretary Pompeo’s failure deprived the American government of an official record of what happened in this meeting and guarantees that the historical record will remain incomplete. Federal law requires the State Department and the Secretary of State to:

  • Notify the Archivist of all instances where federal records are seized or destroyed;
  • Recover the records;
  • Refer the unlawful seizure to the Attorney General for the purpose of initiating an enforcement action to recover the records.

Ahead of the June 2019 G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, where President Trump met with President Putin, we filed suit with American Oversight against the Department of State, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Archivist of the United States. The suit followed demand letters sent by Democracy Forward in February 2019 and American Oversight in January 2019, alerting Secretary Pompeo to the fact that the meeting notes qualified, in our view, as “federal records,” and that he was ignoring his legal obligations by allowing the President’s seizure of the notes to go unaddressed and by not referring the conduct to the Department of Justice.

While a federal court ultimately ruled that the interpreter notes do not qualify as federal records as defined by the Federal Records Act and are therefore not subject to the law, we are proud of our work to hold the Trump administration accountable and shed light on Secretary Pompeo and the State Department’s failure to preserve the notes for the historical record.

 

Ben Seel

Counsel

Focusing on justice, national security, immigration, and health care issues.

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