President Seized Notes Illegally – Federal Law Requires Sec. Pompeo to Preserve and Recover Agency Records, Refer Illegal Conduct to DOJ

Ahead of Trump-Putin G20 Summit Meeting, Democracy Forward and American Oversight Take Legal Action


Washington, DC—  Today, Democracy Forward and American Oversight filed suit against Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for refusing to address President Trump’s unlawful seizure of notes created by a State Department interpreter during a private meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Secretary Pompeo’s failure to preserve and recover these agency records violates the Federal Records Act.  This suit follows demand letters sent by Democracy Forward in February 2019 and American Oversight in January 2019, alerting Secretary Pompeo to the fact that he was ignoring his legal obligations by allowing the President’s seizure of meeting records to go unaddressed and by not referring the conduct to the Department of Justice.

“Secretary Pompeo is breaking the law by allowing President Trump’s unlawful seizure of agency records to go unchecked,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “On the eve of another meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin, Secretary Pompeo’s actions ensure that our relationship with Russia remains shrouded in secrecy, with the American government left in the dark.”

“We aren’t talking about old outtakes from The Apprentice. This may be the only written record of a meeting between two heads of state, and the interpreter’s notes can’t be seized or destroyed just because President Trump might want them hidden,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “President Trump and Secretary Pompeo might not like it, but the law requires that the interpreter’s notes are recovered and preserved.”

Federal law requires the State Department and the Secretary of State to:

  • Notify the Archivist of all instances where meeting notes were seized or destroyed;

  • Recover such meeting notes; and

  • Refer the unlawful seizure to the Attorney General for the purpose of initiating an enforcement action to recover the records.

Today’s lawsuit comes ahead of the June 2019 G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, where President Trump is expected to meet with President Putin.

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.

The lawsuit was filed under the Federal Records Act on June 18, 2019 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the Department of State, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Archivist of the United States.


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.

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