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Frum writes: "There are real costs to such a move - but the public needs to know what was said between Trump and Putin."

Vladimir Putin. (photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin. (photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Subpoena the Interpreter

By David Frum, The Atlantic

14 January 19

There are real costs to such a move—but the public needs to know what was said between Trump and Putin.

ow Congress faces a very hard question: Subpoena President Donald Trump’s translator, or not?

On Saturday, The Washington Post’s Greg Miller reported new details of the extreme things done by Trump to conceal his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin from even the senior-most members of Trump’s own administration. Trump even reportedly seized the interpreter’s notes after one of his meetings, the Trump-Putin sit-down at the Hamburg G20 meeting in July 2017. Even more disturbingly, Trump and Putin met privately a second time at Hamburg—with no American present. In an act of astonishing recklessness, Trump relied entirely on the Russian interpreter, preventing any U.S. record-keeping at all.

All this would be unusual enough for any president. It is more than suspicious for a president being formally investigated by the FBI as a possible Russian-intelligence asset.

Concern focuses most on Trump’s meetings with Putin at the Helsinki summit in July 2018. The Russian president, and the American president helped into office by the Russian president, met for two hours with no aides. No agenda was published before the meeting, no communiqué issued afterward. The Russian side later claimed that a number of agreements had been reached at the summit. Nobody on the American side seemed to know whether this was true. At a press conference four days after the meeting, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said, “I’m not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki.”

There’s only one American who does know: Marina Gross, the professional interpreter who assisted Trump.

Should she be asked? It’s a tough, tough, tough question.

Arguments against:

  • A friend who holds a senior foreign-policy position in an EU government was absolutely horrified at the prospect of a subpoena for Gross. No admirer of Trump’s, this person felt such a subpoena would create a new precedent that would shadow all future confidential presidential conversations with non-English-speaking heads of government, allied as well as adversarial.

  • The Trump administration would surely raise an executive-privilege objection. In the 1974 case U.S. v. Nixon, the Supreme Court rejected an absolute claim of internal privilege within the executive branch. But it acknowledged “the valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties.” The court stressed that this privilege was at its strongest in military and diplomatic affairs, which would presumably describe the Helsinki meeting.

  • There is a nontrivial possibility that Gross might refuse to testify. Interpreters have a strong professional code of confidentiality. This code is not recognized in law, but like a newspaper reporter protecting his or her sources, Gross might feel honor-bound to uphold the code anyway—risking a contempt citation or even jail. Should she be put in that position?

Against those arguments is this fact: We are facing very possibly the worst scandal in the history of the U.S. government. Previous high-profile cases of disloyalty to the United States—Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s betrayal of atomic secrets to the U.S.S.R.; Secretary of War John B. Floyd’s allowing federal arsenals to fall into secessionist hands in 1861—did not involve presidents. Previous presidential scandals did not involve allegations of disloyalty.

Is the president of the United States a Russian asset? Is he subject to Russian blackmail? Is he at this hour conniving with the Russian president against the interests of the United States? These are haunting questions, and Trump’s own determination to defy normal presidential operating procedures to keep secret his private conversations with Putin only lends credibility to the worst suspicions.

I wrote in my book Trumpocracy about the “autoimmune disorders” triggered by this most corrupt, most authoritarian, and perhaps most compromised of all presidencies. Trump’s breaches of norms force other agencies of government to breach norms in reply, in order to protect supreme public interests threatened by Trump. These norm-breaches by the other agencies do genuine harm, just as the aggressive autoimmune responses of the human body do real harm. But the alternative—suppressing all immune responses—is to allow the infection to fester and eventually destroy the host it occupies.

The scandal of the Trump presidency leaves Americans only bad choices. Powers and privileges essential to the functioning of an honest and patriotic presidency are called into question by this dishonest and unpatriotic presidency. Succeeding presidents and Congresses will have to find a way to restore or replace busted norms with new ones—but pretending now that the old rules can function as intended is not only delusive, but dangerous.

Subpoena the interpreter now; write a new law formalizing the confidentiality of interpretation later.

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-2 # apotem 2019-01-14 19:48
The work of an interpreter is confidential; subpoena is a move in a wrong direction and will backfire sooner or later.
+21 # grandlakeguy 2019-01-14 19:56
The FBI should immediately place her in the witness protection program to protect her from Trump and his thugs!
+12 # elizabethblock 2019-01-14 20:46
One of the weirder effects of Trump's presidency is that unlikely people, and unlikely institutions, are taking on the role of heroes - like the FBI, the CIA, and David Frum.
-4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-15 14:09
EB -- not likely. These are not heroes. they are fascists now and always have been.

Remember the case of Sybil Edmonds, the FBI translator who listened to FBI/CIA/NSA wiretaps in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish and translated for them. After 9-11, she was aware that she'd translated many intercepted calls and emails that were evidence in the investigation of 9-11. It was her boss, Robert Meuller, who fired her, shut her up cold, slapping a court ordered gag on her. He arrested her and held her in prison just so she would not talk. He harassed her nearly to the point of murdering her. She was threatened with death if she talked.

The Senate investigated Mueller's silencing of Edmonds. She was perhaps THE most important whistleblower who had the information that Mueller's FBI was hiding what it knew about the conspiracy surrounding 9-11. Senate Democrats wrote a report excoriating Mueller, John Ashcroft, and others for covering up evidence, and punishing a bona fide whistle blower.

My how the tables turn. Now the 9-11 cover up artist Mueller is our hero. Same for David Frum.

You can be sure of one thing: these fascists have not changed. They are still committed to the American militarist empire and Israeli hegemony. It is democrats and progressives who have changed. We are just not being honest about these changes. Glen Greenwald -------
+1 # jackdresser 2019-01-17 03:21
Excellent post!The number of thumbs down reflects the level of awareness of self-anointed "liberal" and "progressive" citizens. You no doubt remember that Mueller was appointed FBI Director in August 2001, just in time, and that the FBI as lead investigating agency in an act of domestic terrorism should have first and foremost secured the crime scene, not allowed the evidence to be swept up and shipped to China. His obvious assigned job today is get rid of Trump any way he can to protect the weapons industry and neocons polluting the government of whom only Bolton and Pompeo remain in key positions.
-3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-15 14:12
continued ---

has a very perceptive article now on the Intercept about how democrats have changed and adopted the people you say as their heroes. Here's Greenwald,

"At the same time, Democratic policy elites in Washington are once again formally aligning with neoconservative s, even to the point of creating joint foreign policy advocacy groups (a reunion that predated Trump). The leading Democratic Party think tank, the Center for American Progress, donated $200,000 to the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and has multilevel alliances with warmongering institutions. By far the most influential liberal media outlet, MSNBC, is stuffed full of former Bush-Cheney officials, security state operatives, and agents, while even the liberal stars are notably hawkish (a decade ago, long before she went as far down the pro-war and Cold Warrior rabbit hole that she now occupies, Rachel Maddow heralded herself as a “national security liberal” who was “all about counterterrorism”)."

This is an absolute tragedy for us. These new heroes do not have our good or the good of anyone in the world in mind. They are fascists and imperialists. They torture, murder, and start wars anywhere they wish. To see anyone fall under their influence is the greatest tragedy imaginable.
+1 # jackdresser 2019-01-17 03:36
During the VN war Johnson and Nixon were indistinguishab le in their bloodthirsty fanaticism, and the current collusion began with Clinton and continued unabated thru Bush II and Obama/Clinton - for 25 uninterrupted years before Trump, killing Arabs and Muslims and Serbians by the hundreds of thousands. It is our national script traceable back to the Indian wars. Now, for practical not moral (no signs of that) reasons, trump wants to end the crime spree and the Deep State is trying to run him over with Mueller as its vehicle hood ornament.
+3 # harleysch 2019-01-15 17:41
Heroes for whom? If David Frum has become your hero, because he is berating Trump, then you either have a short memory of who Frum is, or are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. It's not just a "weirder effect", Elizabeth, it is a retreat from sanity. Now, former anti-war liberals are demanding the U.S. keep troops in Syria and Afghanistan, because Trump wants to remove them!

What is going on here? One day, a post from the neocon nitwit Max Boot, who is pushing for a war with Russia. Thus post, from David Frum, a top aide to W. Bush.

The terrible tragedy is that many former sensible progressives have gone over to the dark side, cheerleading the CIA, FBI, neocons and neoliberals, and possible war criminals such as General Mattis.
+3 # Elroys 2019-01-14 20:58
We know exactly what was said: Putin tells trump:
You do exactly what I tell you do and say or we call all the loans, disclose all the laundered dough we used to keep you afloat for all these years and we televise in your prime the entire 1 hour long pee pee tapes - in full technicolor. We will tell your government everything we have done together and you will be locked up in a tower by yourself for the rest of your life - the kind with barbed wire and large men with machine guns. Have a nice day!
0 # jackdresser 2019-01-17 13:12
This is pure fantasy. Trump took his orders from his largest campaign contributor, Sheldon Adelson representing Israel. Reniging on the Iran nuclear "deal" did not serve Russia's interests, and are you unaware of the face-off in the eastern Mediterranean between US and Russian navies not long ago to block us from missile attacks on Syria? This resurrection of Cold War propaganda is transparent and tiresome. Iran is the only stabilizing, cohesive and rational state in the region, is a de facto member of the SCO central to China's belt and road initiatives, and will remain under watchful protection of the Russia/China alliance as global power shifts into a multipolar world order. Americans know nothing about this since very few US organizations can afford to maintain foreign correspondents and our (commercial) world news sources are largely limited to the NYT and AP, which carefully screen and distort stories to support the duopoly's official party lines and keep the US public stupified.
+5 # economagic 2019-01-14 21:26
Holy crap: It must be "Repentant Neocons' Day" in the (NOT!) left wing media.!
+4 # lfeuille 2019-01-14 22:56
Yes, subpoena the interpreter. My guess is that this will show Trump as a windbag jackass only out for himself, but nothing about "collusion". But whatever it shows, Trump shouldn't be able to hide his conversations with foreign leaders. The law just isn't adequate for someone like Trump.
+9 # candida 2019-01-14 23:01
I don't see subpoena-ing the interpreter as all that tough. They are employees of the people, for god's sake, not scribes of a king nor the fourth estate. Such reluctance should only be held for the press in these instances, not translators and interpreters. Subpoena away...and god speed!
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-16 10:30
candida -- translators who work in the diplomatic corps of any government are protected by the same international conventions that protect diplomats. Diplomats cannot be compelled to testify and so too for their translators.

International diplomacy requires a lot of protection for the people out front. The US cannot arrest or subpoena any diplomat who is inside the US for official business at the UN. There are a lot of translators working at the UN.

If this international convention were to be broken, all the work of diplomats would be seriously compromised. Who would ever speak with an American again?

The Rule of Law means that everyone is subject to the same law in the same way. No exceptions.

It is not surprising that a neo-con would recommend breaking international law. That is sort of what they do by nature. They are outlaws.
+1 # jackdresser 2019-01-17 13:37
One need look no farther than Pompeo's recent embarrassing speech in Cairo declaring US exceptionalism, openly declariung our right to interfere in another country, violating the foundation stone of international law, the UN Charter.

We of course have been doing this routinely since WWII, starting with five regime change operations under the Dulles Bros appointed by Eisenhower (Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, Indonesia and Congo). Only Vietnam survived, at a cost of some 3 million death not counting Laos and Cambodia. The succesful operations were done covertly and by proxy, a more satisfactory model we continued thru Operation Condor in South America and Iran/Contra in Central America.

VN provided an indispensible lesson for the empire, including Edward Lansdale's model of mass propaganda manipulation and Ted Shackley's Phoenix Program - a workshop in infiltration, abduction, torture, and assassination as a model we have used worldwide ever since.

Ken Burn's 18-hour limited hangout successfully concealed everything Americans need to know about the VN war - a propaganda masterpiece leaving the public reassured that it was simply a "mistake" rather than a very expensive and ultimately unsuccessful experiment in imperial domination while we were overthrowing Sukarno in Indonesia next door using covert and proxy methods that were much more successful and much less domestically troublesome.
+1 # jackdresser 2019-01-17 14:08
Confidential communication between heads of state of the world's nuclear superpowers is obviously and vitally necessary.

Hysterical posters here seem historically unaware that Kennedy and Khruschev maintained secret backchannel communications before and implemented during the Cuban missile crisis. They had both recognized that they couldn't trust their military establishments enough to communicate openly (our Joint Chiefs chair, Curtis LeMay, was a Dr. Stranglove madman who wanted to nuke Russia).

Similarly, our recently resigned Gen. "Mad Dog" Mattis was the monstrous commander of both our attacks on Fallujah that killed massively and indiscriminatel y as we had done in VN, a war criminal who should be in prison for life.
-1 # EternalTruth 2019-01-14 23:56
Does anyone know anything about Marina Gross? Did tRump choose her because she’s a loyal MAGAt? Or did she just happen to be on call for this assignment and likely despises Individual One as much as the rest of us? If this meeting is as damning as we assume it must be, I assume the interpreter was threatened and promised pardons. So she would likely refuse to testify out of fear for retaliation .
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-16 10:33
As far as I know, she is just a run of the mill State Department translator. As such, she has protections and immunities, like all US diplomats do.
+2 # RLF 2019-01-15 06:47
"I'll get your pals out of santions if you loan me the money for Trump Tower Moscow."

Or ???
-5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-15 06:53
Why would anyone listen to Frum. He is the rabid neo-con, ex-Bush speech writer who coined the phrase "axis of evil." He's a foreigner and a deep supporter of Israel. He's is the walking image of everything that is wrong in the world.

Once again, he's promoting the worst of all ideas. He is the axis of evil.

He won't mention that the CIA had every square inch of the meeting center bugged. They have recordings of everything. They probably leaked something to Miller of the WashPo.
0 # jackdresser 2019-01-17 15:59
Frum urged on the mass murderous Iraq War and Israel's mass murderous 2014 "protective edge" assault on Gaza. What more needs to be said?
0 # jackdresser 2019-01-17 16:25
Frum strongly encouraged our mass murderous assault on Iraq - inflicted by Bush and applauded by Hillary - and Israel's 2014 mass murderous assault on Gaza. What more needs to be said?
+6 # Tzul el Chapin 2019-01-15 08:46
Trumps defenders keep saying he has done nothing wrong and his detractors are leftist flake. There cab be no denial that the Trump administration is the most corrupt and secretive administration in our history. This is one first Trump can easily claim, as opposed to all the faux first he constantly claims.
+10 # Elroys 2019-01-15 10:17
It is the very character and clearly dishonest and untrustworthy nature of this particular president that must have the disinfectant of sunlight shined on - we must know the truth. It is unfortunate and either decision is a bad choice. However, this is the conundrum that presidents and societies often face and must deal with. The future of our nation, our people and the world are really at stake here and with so many alarms going off around trump, determining the truth about who this guy really is must be determined and must be the top priority. If he's really a good man and simply a buffoon, he deserves our apologies and simply gets voted out in 2 years. However, if he really is the corrupt crook and traitor that he appears to be, then he goes to jail and we have learned invaluable lessons for the future. An opportunity to improve the design and workings of our democracy, our congress and leaders get new "norms" and our future will be brighter than our current situation.
-7 # Anne Frank 2019-01-15 12:26
It proves the power of the total corporate media monopoly of the deep state that so many Americans immediately assume, without a hint of evidence, that conversation between the U.S. president and the president of Russia is per se wicked. No lie is too idiotic when intended to prevent a rapprochement that might threaten the income of war profiteers.
+8 # Porfiry 2019-01-15 14:25
As far as we know every other president, especially when talking with an adversary, had staff with him to provide an accurate report of what went on between the leaders, What is Trump hiding?
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-16 10:35
Porf -- this may be true. I don't know. But none of those staff spoke to the media or congress about what was said, except for repeating the official summary of the discussion.
+2 # chapdrum 2019-01-15 14:45
Oh Frum, go p*ss up a rope, with your faux concern. The same person who gave us the childish phrase "Axis of Evil."
0 # jazzman633 2019-01-16 12:45
There should be two interpreters at every such meeting. They should be allowed to correct each other, in real time. Everything said should be transcribed and checked by two more translators.

You cannot assume that meaning was exactly conveyed with every utterance. That is hopelessly naive, and the stakes are too high. How often we misunderstand each other speaking the same language!

One or both participants (not just the current liar) can come out of the meeting and say anything about was was said, with no corrective mechanism.

Of course, none of this will happen, just because the public must never know of the deep secrets that were shared. BS! If they're talking about something that affects my life, my country, and the world at large, we have every right to know what was said -- in fact, to peruse the transcription, with all ambiguities and conflicts noted.

Additional translators and transcriptions would benefit the participants as well. They need the most accurate information about what was intended, what was said, and what was heard. What if negotiations fail because of the misunderstandin g of a single word or phrase (translators make mistakes too?

I'm tired of "frank and businesslike" and all the other weasel words used to describe discussions. The wall of secrecy is just another way for politicians to lie to the people they supposedly serve.

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