When asked whether President Donald Trump’s translator, Marina Gross, should answer questions about the president’s meetings with Russia President Vladimir Putin, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) gave a definitively negative answer.
“Absolutely not,” Graham said, according to a video published in a tweet from Politico.
Graham has a point — the president’s translator, in most circumstances, needs to be considered off-limits. Compelling that person to testify in any way would violate the separation of powers between Congress and the president. It would also make it more difficult for the president to conduct discussions with other world leaders.
If Gross is forced to speak about Trump’s meetings with Putin, it “will be the last time you ever have a foreign leader meet with the president of the United States privately,” Graham warned.
In ordinary times, we’d never make such a request of a translator to any president. These are not, however, ordinary times.
Most presidents, while meeting with foreign leaders, require detailed notes and other witnesses to be present with them to corroborate what has been said later on, and for other reasons as well.
On at least five occasions where he interacted with Putin, however, Trump took extraordinary measures to ensure no notes and no witnesses were present — including physically taking the notes away from his translator, chiding her not to discuss the incident with anyone else in the White House, according to reporting from the Washington Post over the weekend.
Meet Marina Gross, Trump's translator at Helsinki https://t.co/W6hjQ98R3h
— David Frum (@davidfrum) January 12, 2019
Trump also took great measures to guarantee that none of his staff — no cabinet members, no aides, save for his translator — were involved in the meeting with Putin during their summit in Helsinki.
What was discussed in those meetings? Shouldn’t someone, other than the president, have knowledge about what went on in them?
It’s an unprecedented action by this current chief executive, one that most with experience of such meetings say is dangerous.
Strobe Talbott, who served as a Deputy Secretary of State under former President Bill Clinton, said that such behavior is “outrageous.”
“[It] handicaps the U.S. government — the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] — and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump,” Talbott added.
Given the continued Russia investigation — and all of the details we presently understand about that investigation, including the ties that exist from the Kremlin to members of Trump’s own campaign staff, according to reporting from Time magazine — further understanding about Trump’s relationship with Putin should be made available, at the very least to trusted members of his own White House staff.
But because of his shroud of secrecy, this information needs to be given to others as well. Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs ought to be made privy to the details of these meetings.
Had notes of those meetings been made, that would be all that the committee members would need. Unfortunately, such notes don’t exist, and the only American who does know what went on in those meetings is Trump’s translator.
Again, in ordinary circumstances, we should never attempt to get a translator to divulge these details. Unfortunately, the way Trump has conducted himself in office forces Congress to consider these extreme measures.