Only President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin know what was discussed at their secretive meeting in Helsinki earlier this week — oh, and one more person: a translator.
The private Monday meeting, followed by a press conference where Trump said he didn’t think Russia hacked the U.S. election, despite American intelligence agencies’ conclusions otherwise, caused quite an uproar, with watchers worried what Trump might have promised behind closed doors. Afterward, a few House Democrats wanted to talk to the translator, the meeting’s only witness, to see what the two world leaders discussed. But Republicans quickly shut that down.
Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California made a motion Thursday for the House Intelligence Committee to subpoena the American interpreter present during Trump and Putin's meeting. In an 11-6 to vote, Republicans tabled the motion.
Even if the motion succeeded, it’s not clear the translator, longtime State Department employee Maria Gross, would have showed up. It’s not illegal to refuse a Congressional subpoena.
"We're not going to go and start having interpreters in private meetings come out and testify,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters Wednesday.
Russian officials also expressed frustration at the attempts to subpoena the interpreter. Russian news agencies reported that Konstantin Kosachev, head of the upper house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said the move could threaten “the whole idea of diplomacy.”
Putin himself just heralded the meeting as “successful overall.” He also echoed Trump in accusing nebulous forces of conspiring against them to undermine U.S.-Russia relations.
In the press conference Monday, Trump said, referring to Russia being involved in election meddling: “I don't see any reason why it would be.”
A day later, Trump said he needed to clarify his comments and that he did, in fact, accept U.S. intelligence officials’ assertion that Russia interfered in the election.
“The sentence should’ve been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double-negative,” the president said, explaining that he had mistakenly said “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” “I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander)