State Dept. Must Produce Evidence About the Contents of Interpreter Notes

Court Notes Oddity of a President Seizing Interpreter Notes Following Meeting with Foreign Leader

Washington, D.C. — In an immediate ruling from the bench today, a federal court rejected the Trump administration’s effort to dismiss a lawsuit against Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for his unlawful refusal to recover the interpreter notes President Donald Trump illegally seized following a meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Today’s order was issued in a case filed by Democracy Forward and American Oversight.

The court ruled that the case will proceed because the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that the interpreter notes were State Department records and that Pompeo had reason to believe that the notes were unlawfully seized.

“President Trump clearly wishes to shield his interactions with foreign leaders even from those within his administration. But the law doesn’t allow Secretary Pompeo to turn a blind eye to those efforts,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Nitin Shah. “Today’s ruling is a win for government transparency and accountability.”

“The administration has done everything it can to hide what Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump discussed in Hamburg,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “Today’s ruling is an important step to ensuring the government complies with its legal obligations.”

The administration has a pattern of concealing details of President Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders, notably the White House effort to “lock down” President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, the contents of which is part of the ongoing Congressional impeachment inquiry. Pompeo’s refusal to recover and preserve these records has allowed President Trump to further conceal his interactions with President Putin, and deprives the American government of an official record of high-level communications with Russia.


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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.