In New Filing, Groups Charge That Administration Tries to Evade Mandatory Duty Under the Federal Records Act
New Filing is Latest Action in The Groups’ Ongoing Lawsuit
Washington D.C.—Today, Democracy Forward and American Oversight submitted a new legal filing in their ongoing challenge to the Trump administration’s failure to recover and preserve the State Department interpreter notes President Trump unlawfully seized following a private meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin at the July 2017 G20 conference in Hamburg, Germany. Today’s filing opposes the government’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit and rejects the administration’s effort to place President Trump and the heads of federal agencies above federal recordkeeping laws.
Among other points, the groups push back on the administration’s argument that the interpreter notes are only agency records if they have been circulated throughout the agency. As today’s filing states, “it would be especially problematic to conclude that the [interpreter notes] are not federal records under the FRA only because President Trump intervened to prevent their circulation.” The administration’s argument would “create a perverse incentive for federal agencies to swiftly alienate or destroy documents to keep them beyond the ambit of the FRA.”
“By ignoring his legal duty, Secretary Pompeo is enabling President Trump’s unlawful attempt to conceal records of his meetings with foreign leaders, even from members of his own administration,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Nitin Shah. “As new and troubling facts emerge about President Trump’s discussions with foreign leaders, it is all the more important that Secretary Pompeo follow the law to preserve records detailing these conversations.”
“These notes may be the only written record of a meeting between two heads of state, and Secretary Pompeo can’t pretend they are not official records just because the president may be afraid of what they show,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “Amid an impeachment inquiry centered around the president’s abuse of power in an interaction with a foreign leader, it is essential to preserve the record of exactly what Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin discussed.”
Since the groups filed their case in June, the extent to which President Trump has sought to block details of his conversations with foreign leaders has become more apparent. Most notable is the administration’s effort to “lock down” President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, the contents of which has led to a Congressional impeachment inquiry.
President Trump has also made repeated attempts to conceal the content of his multiple meetings with President Putin, such as the July 2017 Hamburg meeting. This effort to shield these meetings from the public, and even from top national security advisors, has only exacerbated concerns about the content of the discussions between the two presidents. Indeed, 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.
The opposition brief was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
American Oversight is a non-partisan, nonprofit ethics watchdog and is the top Freedom of Information Act litigator investigating the Trump administration. Since our launch in March 2017, we have filed more than 100 public records lawsuits, uncovering and publishing tens of thousands of documents including senior officials’ calendars, emails, and expense records. Relying on FOIA and other public records laws, we file requests to uncover misconduct that otherwise would not see daylight, and then we harness the independent power of the courts to force the administration to obey the law.