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Washington, D.C. Jan. 13, 2020 — The State Department told a federal court that, contrary to The Washington Post’s January 2019 reporting, President Trump did not seize interpreter notes documenting a 2017 private meeting with Russian Federation President Valdimir Putin. The State Department further appears to claim that it has taken measures to recover the interpreter notes, though it has not disclose any details about the actions it has taken or explained who is currently in possession of the notes. These assertions by the government came today in response to a lawsuit filed by Democracy Forward and American Oversight against Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for his unlawful refusal to recover the notes that are potentially relevant to President Trump’s impeachment proceedings.

“It is troubling that the State Department continues to maintain its shroud of secrecy over what happened to the Trump-Putin meeting notes,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Nitin Shah. “As new and disturbing facts continue to emerge about President Trump’s discussions with foreign leaders in general, and the Hamburg meeting in particular, it is extremely important for the administration to come clean on what it knows about this record, and what it plans to do to recover and preserve it.”

Former White House officials have said that the Trump-Putin Hamburg meeting is critical to understanding President Trump’s adoption of the debunked, Russia-driven conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to defeat him.  That belief in turn led to President Trump’s demand that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announce an official investigation before Trump’s White House would release Congressionally appropriated military assistance — a subject of President Trump’s ongoing impeachment proceedings. 

President Trump has made repeated attempts to conceal the content of his multiple meetings with President Putin, including the July 2017 Hamburg meeting. His extreme efforts to shield these meetings from the public, and even from his own high-level administration officials, has only exacerbated concerns about the content of the discussions between the two presidents. 

On March 13, 2020, the State Department is required to produce a record in this case that is expected to include evidence regarding interpreter notes. 

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.