President Seized Notes Illegally – Federal Law Requires that State Department Preserve Agency Records
Request for Compliance With Federal Law Follows Reporting that President Trump Seized and Possibly Destroyed Records Documenting At Least One Face-to-Face Meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Washington, DC— This week, following reports that President Trump seized notes recorded by a State Department interpreter following a private meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, Democracy Forward sent a letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo putting him on notice that the President’s conduct violates the Federal Records Act (FRA). The letter further demands that Secretary Pompeo comply with his legal obligations under the FRA to retrieve and preserve all State Department records from meetings between President Trump and President Putin. In addition to requiring that meeting notes of this kind be preserved, federal law also requires that Secretary Pompeo refer President Trump’s unlawful seizure of State Department records to the Department of Justice for investigation and enforcement.
Democracy Forward’s demand responds to President Trump’s repeated attempts to conceal the content of his meetings with President Putin, which have included:
- Following at least one private meeting, seizing notes taken by a State Department interpreter, and
- Refusing to allow anyone besides First Lady Melania Trump to attend a private conversation had with President Putin at the November 2018 G20 summit in Argentina, once again breaching the diplomatic best practice of including national security aides at such meetings.
The letter specifically requests that the Department take steps within 60 days to notify the Archivist of the United States of instances where notes pertaining to private meetings between President Trump and President Putin were seized or destroyed, retrieve from the President’s custody any relevant meeting notes, and refer the President’s unlawful seizure of notes to the Attorney General for further investigation and enforcement.
“Secretary Pompeo can’t turn a blind eye to the President’s brazen seizure of public records,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “Federal law requires him to take action.”
The relationship between Presidents Trump and Putin is well-documented, and the pair have met five times since 2017. In his first meeting with the Russian government, President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister. The letter was sent February 7, 2019.
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.