Should Trump’s Translator Be Compelled To Testify About That Meeting With Putin?

Some Democrats want to compel President Trump's translator to testify about his private meeting with Vladimir Putin. That's a bad idea.

In the wake of President Trump’s disastrous press conference after his meeting on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which included a two-hour closed-door session at which only the principles and their translators were present, many Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Administration to reveal what may have been discussed at that meeting and, specifically, what was discussed during the aforementioned closed-door meeting. Toward that end, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be testifying next week before House and Senate Committees regarding both the results of the Helsinki Summit and last month’s summit in Singapore between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Some Democrats, though, are pushing for more than that, they want the translator who accompanied Trump in the meeting with Putin to be subpoenaed as well:

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) on Tuesday called for the American translator present during President Trump’s private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell Congress what was said during the encounter.

In a letter to the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Pascrell said the panel should hear testimony from translator Marina Gross, who was the only other American in the room with Trump and Putin.

“Given the public concessions President Trump made to Russian President Vladimir Putin by siding against the U.S. intelligence community, law enforcement, and our military officials about Russia’s attack on our democracy, Congress and the American public deserve to know the details of their private conversation,” Pascrell wrote.

His call echoes similar proposals made Tuesday by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen(D-N.H.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), who both said the American translator should testify in front of Congress.

Though Putin speaks English, both Trump and Putin had translators with them at the meeting in Helsinki due to protocol.

(…)

Pascrell noted that translators are not typically compelled to testify before Congress. The code of ethics published by the American Translators Association says translators must “hold in confidence” any privileged information they come across.

“In general, any information that’s confidential has to remain confidential even if you’re an interpreter. For example, attorney-client confidentiality extends to interpreter,” American Translators Association spokeswoman Judy Jenner said.

“But as a diplomatic interpreter, you are probably aware of how precarious things could possibly be.”

“It may be unprecedented to subpoena a translator to reveal the details of a private meeting between the President and another world leader, but Trump’s actions are unprecedented in a way that harms our national security,” Pascrell wrote in his letter to Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, respectively.

Pascrell listed evidence that members of the Trump family continue to profit from their businesses, some of which have connections to Russia.

“Over the years, the Trump family has bragged about their financial connections to Russia,” Pascrell wrote, citing several quotes by Trump’s sons boasting about the Trump Organization’s ties to Russia.

New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen has also called on Congress to call the translator to testify:

As has Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has also raised the possibility:

This suggestion was repeated this morning on Morning Joe by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and seems as though it is likely to become a talking point among Democrats and members of the media, especially if the White House remains silent regarding the substance of what the President and President Putin may have discussed in their one-on-one meeting. In that regard, so far all we’ve gotten from the President and his aides have been vague generalities about the substance of those talks and, so far at least, there has been no official “read out” or summary of the substance of that conversation that we typically get after the President has had a private discussion with a world leader in the past, including from this Administration. Given all of that, it’s not surprising that Democrats, Trump critics, and even average Americans are justifiably curious about what the President and Vladimir Putin may have discussed privately for two hours on a Monday afternoon in Helsinki.

As a general rule, I agree with those members of Congress that the Administration needs to explain in far greater detail than it already has exactly what was discussed between Trump and Putin in their private meeting and what, if anything, they may have agreed to. The main reason for this, of course, is because any such agreements are going to have a serious impact on American policy going forward and because the American people and Congress deserve to know what, if anything, may have been agreed during that meeting. This is especially true given the ongoing investigation regarding Russian influence in the 2016 election and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. With that hanging over the entire summit meeting, the public deserves to know what happened during this meeting with Putin and both Congress and the press should keep the pressure on the White House until they answer questions about it.

All of that being said, I have significant doubts about the propriety of requiring the Presidential translator to testify and even whether Congress has the legal authority to do so. As noted above, the national organization that represents translators generally states as part of its ethical standards that translators need to respect the privacy of any privileged communications that they may be a part of as part of their duties. This includes private communications such as those between an attorney and client, a doctor and patient, or a member of the clergy and a penitent, to name just three examples of legally recognized privileges. As a general rule, the presence of a translator for such interactions does not legally vitiate a privilege notwithstanding the fact that, under ordinary circumstances, the presence of a third party in such communications would void the privilege. This, of course, is because the translator in those cases is essentially acting as the voice and ears of the participants to the communication and are, indeed, necessary for the conversation to take place. In that respect, there is effectively no difference between a foreign language translator and a sign language interpreter in a situation where one of the participants in an otherwise privileged communication is deaf.

In the case of the President, of course, the attorney/client, doctor/patient, and clergyman/penitent privileges don’t apply. However, there are plenty of situations where Executive Privilege and the right of a President to keep certain conversations private or classified as secret would apply, and it’s arguably the case that the exact contents of a conversation with another world leader can be one of those situations. The exact contours of what does and does not constitute material protected by this privilege are not entirely clear and often ends up being the subject of dispute and court proceedings, but as a general rule, it means that a President has the privilege of keeping the contents of certain communications related to his official duties secret. This privilege is not absolute, of course, and I’m not aware of any Court case that has reached the question of whether or not the privilege can apply to conversations with foreign leaders, but I think you can at least make a case that they should be. Additionally, one could make the argument that the President’s broad statutory authority regarding the classification of information gives him the authority to order that the contents of those communications are classified and therefore cannot be disclosed publicly.

This isn’t to say that the translator in this meeting cannot be compelled to testify in either a public or classified setting, however, I believe that Congress ought to be careful before taking this step. The translators that the President makes use of are, generally speaking, employees of the State Department who are professionally trained and bound by both government ethics rules and by the ethical rules established by their profession. If they are involved in conversations that are otherwise privileged or classified then they cannot and should not be forced to testify regarding the content of those conversations. Additionally, forcing translators to testify in these circumstances would arguably cause both Presidents and foreign leaders to doubt whether what they say will remain confidential, which in and of itself would have a deleterious impact on the conduct of Presidential business requiring the use of translators.

The American people deserve to know more about what the President and President Putin talked about on Monday, but forcing the translator to testify is not the way to do it.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, National Security, Politicians, Russia, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Agreed with your conclusion, even though this was an extraordinary situation where a buffoon sat down with a persuasive leader.

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  2. CSK says:

    This is a situation that Trump himself caused. He’s someone who’s a proven liar, who, furthermore, has been cheerleading for Putin for the past eleven years, demanding a private summit with the world’s Number One thugocrat. Of course no one trusts Trump not to give away the store, which is precisely why he’d want to keep the conversation secret.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    Is it a terrible idea? Yes. Is it a necessary one, given that a weak and subservient Trump obediently trotted off to visit his alpha male and meekly went in for a one on one conversation so he could be given his marching orders? Yes. We need to know what he agreed to do and why he felt the need to hide it from Americans, but not Russians.

    We have two bad things here. We take the lesser of two evils.

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  4. James Pearce says:

    I have significant doubts about the propriety of the idea of requiring the Presidential translator to testify

    It’s a terrible idea and frankly this nonsense is one of the reasons why I have grown incredibly skeptical of the left. That whole “we have to burn the village to save it” Vietnam “bomb the north” mentality.

    What makes them think the translator’s account will be more reliable? Why not demand a transcript? Why not demand a recording? Why not demand to be in the room?

    Why not just accept that whatever was said in that meeting was not in our best interests and mobilize politically to replace this president with one a little more aligned with our interests?

    This whole “Get the translator to testify” plan is missing one major component. Once then get the translator to testify, then what?

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  5. CSK says:

    Well, Trump just threw Coats under the bus (again). He told his cabinet that Russia is no longer targeting the U.S. And added that no president has been tougher on Russia than he has.

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  6. TM01 says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I see the Talking Points have been distributed. LOL

    I’m not going to bother looking up the MSNBC or CNN schedule to figure out where you got them tho.

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  7. Franklin says:

    @TM01: Aww, I see, you’re trying to turn the tables by accusing MarkedMan of doing exactly what you always do. Very clever and so opaque.

    In the meantime, note that our side is allowed to actually disagree with the suggestion. As I have done.

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  8. CSK says:

    @TM01:

    Just answer these two questions: Do you believe Trump when he says, as he did a short while ago, that Russia is no longer targeting the U.S., or you do believe Dan Coats, the Republican Director of National Intelligence, handpicked by Trump to fill that position, when Coats says the red light is
    blinking? If you do believe Trump over Director Coats, could you explain why?

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  9. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Actually, I would be very surprised if the translators – either of them – have any real memory of what was said. They’re so busy translating “in the moment” that they’re not really “listening” to what’s being said.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    Trump is doing lasting damage to our foreign policy and national security. But, if we have no idea what he agreed to, then future administrations cannot be bound by it — just as a practical matter if nothing else.

    Trump has effectively marginalized himself.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    Trivia (from another thread). The bully in a Christmas Story who went looking for younger kids to harass (because he was afraid of the kids his age) was called Scott Farkus. His tiny toady, the older kid who hung around Farkus because he alone was too pathetic to beat up even little kids, was called Grover.

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  12. george says:

    @CSK:

    All true. But once the precedence of translators being compelled to testify is set here, it’ll almost automatically be invoked in the future against almost every president.

    Trump is an exceptionally bad (though not historically worst – that honor should go to Andrew Jackson) president; however its extremely naive to think that tools that are created to use against him won’t become part of the normal toolkit against every future president.

    Its almost guaranteed that by 2024 by the latest a Democrat will be president (three consecutive presidents by a party has only been achieved once since WW2); every new action (rightfully) used against Trump will automatically (and probably wrongly) be used against that president.

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  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I agree that, normally, this may not be a great idea; bad cases make for bad law. However, discussions between a dom and his submissive are not privileged. These are dark times. Normal rules do not apply.
    Dennison, just this afternoon, flat out said Russia is no longer targeting the US…in direct contradiction of his DNI and our intelligence agencies. Manifestly, something dangerous is going on between Putin and Dennison, and in the absence of other information Americans need to know, not if but, how Dennison has compromised US interests.

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  14. CSK says:

    @george:

    I know. But it may be a risk we have to take. Do you trust Trump in any regard to have the best interests of this county at heart? Do you trust him not to lie about what he said to Putin? He’s already pretty much retracted yesterday’s retraction.

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  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @TM01:
    We caught you red-handed waiting to get your marching orders from Hannity. You’ll notice in that same thread that the rest of us all had opinions many hours before say, Maddow, came on.

    Even your insults are dishonest and unoriginal.

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  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    As to the topic: who pays the interpreter’s salary? Is it the US taxpayer? Yes? then she’s not Trump’s interpreter, she’s ours. She works for us. If we – through our elected representatives – have questions for one of our employees, she should answer them.

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  17. Kathy says:

    It seems far too premature, unless and until there’s reason to believe Trump did something criminal during that conversation, or discussed something pertaining to a crime.

    I don’t think even Trump is that stupid, but he keeps lowering the bar. Maybe he told St. Vlad which races to target, or to focus on the Senate, or in certain states, or maybe he asked St. Vlad how else he could best serve master.

    we’ll see what leaks.

    What the Democrats, and incidentally the Republicans, in Congress should be demanding is a summary of what was discussed, and whether any agreements were reached.

    Granted the Moron in Chief is in charge of foreign policy, such policies are either carried out int he open, or under oversight by Congress.

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  18. Jen says:

    No, she should not be compelled to testify.

    Her testimony likely wouldn’t be very accurate. The human brain doesn’t multitask very well at all, translations and transcriptions included. There’s a video from a number of years ago on one of those night time news shows (Dateline NBC, etc.–I can’t remember which channel it was specifically) that set up a situation like this: count the number of times the orange ball bounces in this video. They play it, you watch, focused on the ball.

    Then, they ask the person who was there–I think it was John Quinones–a bunch of questions, how many times did the ball bounce, what shade of orange was it, what type of ball, and then out of the blue they asked something like did the man in the gorilla suit wave. Roll tape back, and yep, a man in a gorilla suit walks onto the screen, waves his arms, and then exits. No one sees the guy in the gorilla suit because they are focused on the ball bouncing.

    Long way to make a short point: even if this was a good idea (and it isn’t), it’s unlikely to yield reliable information.

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  19. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @TM01: is a traitor to his country and should not be granted the dignity of responses.

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  20. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The topic of this post seems inconsequential when you stand back and realize that the POTUS is refusing to defend this nation from ongoing attacks…in direct opposition to his oath of office.

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  21. James Pearce says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    @TM01: is a traitor to his country and should not be granted the dignity of responses.

    C’mon, man….

    From a brute power perspective, TM01’s support of the president means you’re the traitor the the country and should not be granted the dignity of responses.

    Luckily, we don’t determine who’s a traitor in their country by their political affiliation.

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  22. MarkedMan says:

    @george:

    every new action (rightfully) used against Trump will automatically (and probably wrongly) be used against that president

    I get your point but can you name a single norm the Republicans kept once it was no longer in their interest? Remember when the Dems had a supermajority and Obama was president and all the talk about preserving the pocket veto of justices in order to protect the norm when the situation was reversed? We lost dozens, if not hundreds of judicial posts. And how long did that last in the Trump’s era, once Republicans had power? Those posts are now being filled by Trump Trash. There is no negotiating with Republicans. They lie. Constantly. About everything. A Republican’s word is worse than worthless.

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  23. MarkedMan says:

    @James Pearce:

    Luckily, we don’t determine who’s a traitor in their country by their political affiliation.

    Really? We couldn’t tell anything about traitorous behavior in, say, officials of the Vichy government in France? Of the Quislings in Norway? Trump is a traitor. The Republican officials who back him are either incredibly stupid or Quislings.

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  24. MarkedMan says:

    Here’s what Churchill said about the original Quislings:

    “A vile race of Quislings—to use a new word which will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuries—is hired to fawn upon the conqueror, to collaborate in his designs and to enforce his rule upon their fellow countrymen while grovelling low themselves.”

    I think that summarizes most Republican elected officials pretty well.

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  25. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce:

    Luckily, we don’t determine who’s a traitor in their country by their political affiliation.

    Sarah Palin’s comments about “Real Americans” suggest that you are wrong. We don’t convict people in a court of law for political affiliation, but we certainly proclaim them to not be acting in the interests of our country.

    And, TM01’s mere political affiliation is not the question. It is his support for the traitorous President’s actions.

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  26. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    DFFTT? Don’t Feed the Fracking Treasonous Troll? Excellent advice.

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  27. CSK says:

    Well, Sarah Huckabee Sanders outdid herself today. She said that when Trump replied “No” to the question “Is Russia still targeting the U.S.?” Trump meant he wouldn’t take any questions.

    She does earn her salary, I’ll give her that. Does she come up with this bullshit on her own, or does she have help?

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  28. gVOR08 says:

    @James Pearce:
    “Treason” is a term of art in the law. I’m not sure it’s possible to be convicted of treason absent a declared war.

    It’s also a perfectly fine English vernacular word. Per Wiktionary:

    3. An act of treachery, betrayal of trust or confidence

    Trump is betraying the United States. Supporting him is being an accessory.

    If this seems harsh, think back to how many times I, as an opponent of the Iraq invasion, was called a traitor by Republicans.

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  29. James Pearce says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Trump is a traitor.

    I understand why you have that opinion. But diplomacy you don’t agree with is not treason.

    @Gustopher:

    Sarah Palin’s comments about “Real Americans” suggest that you are wrong.

    This may be shocking, but Sarah Palin is wrong.

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  30. CSK says:

    @James Pearce:

    Well, of course Palin is wrong. But what matters is that she and her ilk think they’re right.

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  31. dmichael says:

    Hmm, Doug Mataconis wants to know what was said and believes that the American people are entitled to know but objects to the only possible means of finding out. There were only four people in that setting (other the Ruskies who undoubtedly recorded it) and only one of them should not have any reason to lie: the U.S. translator. But we can’t ask her because….? There is NO applicable privilege and Mataconis (sort of) admits it. Translator ethics, to the extent they might apply, may be relevant only to the issue of whether while under oath, she can be compelled to testify about it. Pompeo and some other administration toady weren’t there and I can hear them say: “I don’t know, I wasn’t there.” As to the parade of horribles, the precedent of having the translator testify in front of a Congressional committee can be limited to those circumstances where the President of this country insisted on having a private conversation with the leader of a country that has been and is, an adversary. As a former lawyer, I am also skeptical of whether the translator could offer any accurate rendition of the conversation given my knowledge of how court reporters strive to keep an accurate word for word account of what was said and by whom. But that doesn’t go to the silliness of Mr. Mataconis’s argument.

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  32. gVOR08 says:

    Do you feel like we’re living in a pressure cooker with a jammed safety valve and somethings about to blow?

    The Helsinki summit struck me as way over the top. The Russians would want Trump to be a lot more circumspect (if he’s capable of it). We don’t know what Trump may have said in private, and he may have given away the store, although absent a signed agreement, none of it would be binding on the government. Trump denying Russian collusion for the nth time does nothing substantive for Putin. What they got publicly is optics, great political video for Putin. I had the back of the head thought that this might be a last hand, that Putin demanded and got what he values most, domestic political support, and is cashing out before the game blows up.

    I haven’t felt like the Mueller investigation is close to a conclusion, or that I know what that conclusion might look like. After all, I can only speculate on what Trump did and what Putin has on him. But Putin knows. His people would be tracking very closely who has talked to Mueller and probably have a good idea what Mueller has, and they are likely getting reports from some witnesses.

    Paul Campos at LGM dropped a cryptic comment this morning that reinforced the feeling something may be about to happen.

    I’ve come across some very interesting evidence that the amount and quality of kompromat Russian security services gathered on Trump in 2013 is both very extensive and shockingly extreme. This very same evidence is in the hands of Congress, which means effectively that for now it’s in the hands of the GOP, which means it’s for all practical purposes it’s still inside Moscow Centre.

    This would certainly help explain a lot of recent developments.

    I can’t imagine what a law professor might have that he can’t talk about, but it sure feels like somethings about to blow.

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  33. Steve V says:

    I’m not seeing the rationale for extending the privilege to this type of thing. I am seeing how extending the privilege here could be pernicious …

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  34. James Pearce says:

    @gVOR08:

    Trump is betraying the United States. Supporting him is being an accessory.

    No. Trump is representing the United States in a way you don’t like. Supporting him is a matter of having a different opinion.

    If this seems harsh, think back to how many times I, as an opponent of the Iraq invasion, was called a traitor by Republicans.

    Dude…..I am thinking about that. When Republicans called you a traitor, did you think the world needed more…or less…of that bullshit?

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  35. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James Pearce:

    James – Can I suggest one step at a time? re:

    It’s a terrible idea and frankly this nonsense is one of the reasons why I have grown incredibly skeptical of the left. That whole “we have to burn the village to save it” Vietnam “bomb the north” mentality.

    So, while that quote did originate in Feb of 1968, when a Texan Democrat WAS president, I would not say that is a “left” idea.

    The quote was actually said by a US military officer in Viet Nam discussing the bombing of Bến Tre. In 1968, in Viet Nam, I would venture to guess that not too many officers were leftists, as we were fighting the northern communists.

    And let’s not forget that Nixon won in 1968 because he was going to end the war… and THAT really didn’t work out well with the massive carpet bombing of Cambodia and other adjacent countries.

    But enough of that discussion.

    Let’s go back to the subject that you are trying to deflect: the need for a presidential record.

    Trump HATES the White House Stenographers. He makes a habit of tearing up important papers (that need to be reconstructed and entered into historical records). And he should have had a record keeper at that 2 hour meeting with Putin. As he did not, we do not know what was said, what potential agreements made on the part of us (all of us, including you).

    Maybe there was a hands-off agreement on Syria… possibly giving away the Baltic states. Who can say, as protocol was not followed.

    Someone needs to remind Trump that he is not a free-wheeling CEO of a dicey company, but a federal employee living at our expense in government-provided housing. As far as official duties, he has no right to privacy.

    (in the same way that I have no expectation of privacy from my employer when I am at work or using employer provided equipment).

    I would be fine with the translator speaking with Congress behind closed doors so that the presidential record can be made.

    I think we can all agree that if we rely on Trump’s memory, or take his “word” for what he said, we would need to all be prepared for a great disappointment.

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  36. MarkedMan says:

    @James Pearce:

    diplomacy you don’t agree with is not treason.

    Sure. But this ridiculous notion that we have to give Trump the benefit of the doubt vis a vis traitor vs. diplomacy is absurd at this point. What that would mean is that there is literally nothing a President (or rather, a Republican President) can do or say that would justify taking actions to protect the country unless it is a full on confession that he is a Manchurian President.

    Say that three years ago we had posed the question to any random set of Congressmen or even random citizens, “What behavior by a president would indicate such a danger that he is under the control of an enemy country that Congress should act to immediately remove him from power?” Trump has more than surpassed any threshold they would have posited, by an order of magnitude.

    I’m curious, do you honestly believe that there is some kind of diplomacy going on here, rather than a traitor trotting off to meet with his boss for instructions?

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  37. wr says:

    @MarkedMan: “I’m curious, do you honestly believe that there is some kind of diplomacy going on here, rather than a traitor trotting off to meet with his boss for instructions?”

    The only thing Pearce honestly believes is that if he keeps spouting BS “contrarian” positions to everything while pretending to be a liberal people will pay attention to him.

    Once you accept that, everything he says makes perfect sense.

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  38. george says:

    @CSK:

    No, I definitely don’t trust Trump. However, I don’t think that making his translator testify will make much difference. Trump is an idiot, Putin is not – if he’s giving instructions to Trump, its not going to be via that channel.

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  39. The translator idea would be setting an unprecedented, overreach by congress. This would completely delegitimize the president. Notice some in congress are requesting the North Korean Summit as well. A president will not be able to conduct any legitimate foreign policy without some privacy assumed by adversarial and/or friendly foreign leaders. The democrats and media are micromanaging Trump. This just reinforces Trump’s drain the swamp rhetoric. It also screams of a desperate attempt to persuade the public to turn on him, so they can proceed with impeachment. It will only backfire!! The widespread corruption of our various intelligence entities are the ones that need to be scrutinized and cleaned up!! The anti Trump mob in Washington DC, does not give the Trump supporters any semblance of intelligence. They are so off in the woods, it is disgusting. Just do your job or if you can’t under Trump leave!!!

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  40. george says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I get your point but can you name a single norm the Republicans kept once it was no longer in their interest?

    Pretty much most of the house committee rules come immediately to mind. Allowing votes on issues in the first place.
    Allowing independent investigators.
    And so on through 99% of the norms that govern congress and senate, political appointments etc.

    Tradition is what runs most of governing America (and just about every other country, including monarchies and dictatorships). Countries do fall into chaos or tyranny, but America is still a long way from either. As I said, as bad as Trump is, he’s not the worst president in history (though of course he’s still got another two years to claim that title); changing things just for him is forging a blade that will cut both ways.

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  41. george says:

    @James Pearce:

    Dude…..I am thinking about that. When Republicans called you a traitor, did you think the world needed more…or less…of that bullshit?

    Though actually what’s happened is that the word ‘traitor’ has been used so many times (typically by the Republicans, especially during the McCarthy years, but also by pro-war Dems during the ’60’s) that most people see it as a generic insult rather than specific charge.

    For instance, most people who hear someone called a “mother f-er” don’t think that person is involved in incest, they just assume the person is being insulted by the caller.

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  42. Kathy says:

    There are questions that need to be answered first:

    What does the law say about privilege and translators? What are the State Department regulations about translators?

    Ethically, are there legitimate reasons or circumstances for a head of state, or in this case Trump, to meet alone behind closed doors with a foreign head of state, or in this case Putin?

    To the last, I can conceive of valid reasons. I cannot conceive of any valid moral reason not to disclose what transpired.

    Which brings another question: can Congress subpoena de president, or in this case Trump, to testify about the content of that meeting?

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  43. gVOR08 says:

    @James Pearce: Russia conducted a cyberattack against the United States. President Trump is doing essentially nothing to prevent current and future attacks and has actively impeded investigation of same. In what way does this not constitute “An act of treachery, betrayal of trust or confidence”, and in this case violation of his sworn oath? Do you really see allowing a hostile foreign power to screw with our elections as a political position? A legitimate political difference?

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  44. James Pearce says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    But enough of that discussion.

    It occurred to me some weeks ago that the Vietnam war is a pretty good metaphor for the left’s culture wars. That idea has only been reinforced since then.

    I’m absolutely convinced that “wr” stands for “Westmoreland Reincarnated.”

    As far as official duties, he has no right to privacy.

    The president? Has no right to privacy when talking to foreign heads of state? Pretty sure that’s not it…
    @MarkedMan:

    I’m curious, do you honestly believe that there is some kind of diplomacy going on here, rather than a traitor trotting off to meet with his boss for instructions?

    I honestly believe that Trump is engaged in a diplomatic effort to redefine the US’s relationship with Russia. He clearly thinks that aligning with Russia and negotiating with North Korea are good ideas and should have been done years ago and he’s just undoing the logjam.

    We can’t really have that debate, though, because of all this hysteria. “He’s a traitor!” No, he’s the president doing a lot of ill-advised shit. It’s a much different fight.

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  45. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: In the wake of TM’s decision to go silent, I will volunteer to take his place answering the questions. I assume that he is objecting on the grounds of having been asked a compound question, but I will boldly part the questions and answer each.

    Believe: Trump
    Explain: Well, MAGA, duh…. LOL!!!!!!

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  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: “@TM01: is a traitor to his country and should not be granted the dignity of responses.”

    And yet you keep doing it. Porque?

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  47. James Pearce says:

    @george: Granted, some people are using traitor as a generic insult. But others aren’t. They’re still reaching for that tipping point. “He’s racist and sexist AND did I mention he’s a traitor too.” Its losing its sting.

    @gVOR08: I think Trump should be doing more to stop Russia from interfering with our elections, but I also recognize he won’t. That doesn’t make him a traitor. That makes him a bad president.

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  48. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    I think Trump should be doing more to stop Russia from interfering with our elections, but I also recognize he won’t. That doesn’t make him a traitor. That makes him a bad president.

    His inaction a violation of his oath of office. He swore to defend the Constitution, and he refuses to, instead denying the fact of a Russian military cyberwarfare attack on a Constitutionally-defined and -directed process, and doing nothing to counter it or prevent a repeat. In fact, he consistently undermines those in the intelligence community who would execute such actions.

    What would elevate all this to the level of treason (in the colloquial sense) would be if his inaction was meant to specifically benefit Russia.

    We know the former is a fact. Whether the latter is remains to be seen, and may never. But either way, he’s more than just “a bad President.” He’s a President who refuses to discharge the duties of the office.

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  49. MarkedMan says:

    @george:

    Allowing votes on issues in the first place.

    I question most of your list (except the item about Roberts Rules of Order), but this one is certainly not true. In neither house does the leadership allow Democratic bills to come to the floor unless they are trivial (naming a post office) or they have a majority of Republican support.

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  50. An Interested Party says:

    But diplomacy you don’t agree with is not treason.

    Who knew that an American president kissing a Russian dictator’s ass was considered “diplomacy”?

    This would completely delegitimize the president.

    He’s already done a fine job of delegitimizing himself…

    The widespread corruption of our various intelligence entities are the ones that need to be scrutinized and cleaned up!!

    Oh do tell about all of this alleged “widespread corruption”…

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  51. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    But either way, he’s more than just “a bad President.” He’s a President who refuses to discharge the duties of the office.
    Reply

    Imagine a Republican making this argument about Benghazi a few years ago. Is it still convincing?

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  52. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: No, it’s not convincing, because it’s not remotely the same thing.

    Trump has a duty: acknowledge the fact of an attack, and act to prevent a recurrence, and so far we’ve seen no indication of either.

    Really, James. If all you have is this weak, apples-vs.-oranges contrarianism, why bother?

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  53. An Interested Party says:

    Forget translators…does anyone think it’s ok to allow Putin’s goons to question a former American ambassador to Russia? This is beyond disgusting…one diplomat called it perfectly…

    “The president has first and foremost his interests at the top of his mind, as opposed to the government’s. That’s very clear over the past week and a half, between shitting on our NATO allies and kissing Putin’s ass,” the diplomat said. “He cares more about himself than the nation and any of us who serve it.”

    The diplomat continued: “Either he’s compromised by Putin or he’s a pussy, in which case he should grab himself.”

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  54. Kathy says:

    @Mikey:

    Trump has a duty: acknowledge the fact of an attack, and act to prevent a recurrence, and so far we’ve seen no indication of either.

    Not only that, but by refusing to even order the relevant government agencies to attempt a defense, he’s encouraging another attack and weakening America’s position to withstand it. And that as good a textbook definition of providing aid and comfort to the enemy as makes no difference.

    Providing aid and comfort to an enemy is considered treason.

    Of course, one can argue Russia is not “the enemy.” There is certainly no state of war between Russia and the US. Most people would consider Russia a rival, or in current faddish parlance, an adversary.

    One can further argue Cheeto Benito really does believe there was no Russian attack on US elections, and there wont be another one in time for the midterms (which he’d contradicted in his walk back yesterday).

    So either he’s providing aid and comfort to those carrying out attacks on America, or he’s too stupid, or incompetent, or corrupt to do anything about it. He’s either unable to defend his own country, or unwilling to do so.

    Either way, he should be removed from office.

    But that’s a lot easier said than done. Absent a Democratic super majority in Congress by November this year, it won’t happen. Not while the GOP fears the Cheeto’s base more than a nuclear armed foreign power.

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  55. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James Pearce:

    It occurred to me some weeks ago that the Vietnam war is a pretty good metaphor for the left’s culture wars. That idea has only been reinforced since then.

    James – Do you want to expand on that, as I haven’t been drafted, or even informed of any “war”.

    In sort, you need to expand upon and support that comment. As it is, that is a dropped and stinking Deuce that is not helping your argument.

    As far as official duties, he has no right to privacy.

    The president? Has no right to privacy when talking to foreign heads of state? Pretty sure that’s not it…

    James – you are defending the indefensible. Meeting with Putin behind closed doors for TWO HOURS is unprecedented.

    I’ll give you a break: Show me ANY time where two world leaders (US President and “other”) have met behind closed doors for even 30 minutes without support staff documenting the event.

    If there are STATE negotiations, there is NO right to privacy.

    Please note that I am making a clear delineation between Public and Private. I am not asking for details of what he and Melania discuss in the evenings, nor am I even suggesting that casual dinner conversation that may occur between the president and other heads of state be documented in detail… but this was a promoted STATE VISIT, and “We the people” were locked out.

    An elected public servant is beholden to the electorate.

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  56. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    Really, James. If all you have is this weak, apples-vs.-oranges contrarianism, why bother?

    I don’t get the sense that the right is at all comfortable with Trump’s moves toward Russia. If they support it at all, they do so tentatively. The “resistance” should resist the urge to make a big conspiracy theory about it because that will consolidate them in Trump’s camp.

    That’s why bother. Just doing my part to make the world a better place.

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    In sort, you need to expand upon and support that comment.

    Oh, I will. When the idea occurred to me, it was like a lightbulb going off in my head. “They’re trying to reach a tipping point where forces other than their own –the news media, or maybe the courts, Mueller!– wins the war. They’re trying to win hearts and minds by burning down hooches.” I could go on. “They’re allied with a corrupt, hated regime.” I got more. You want more?

    If Hitler’s Nazis helps you understand Trump, I don’t see why the American presence in Vietnam can’t help me understand the modern American left.

    James – you are defending the indefensible.

    If I’m defending anything it’s a calm, cool, rational approach. That should come back into vogue.

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  57. Kit says:

    I’m late to this party, and the comments seem to have drifted off topic. Still, I’m reminded of this scene from The Dark Knight:

    Let me get this straight, you think that your client, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands, and your plan is to blackmail this person?

    If the translator really was privy to a traitorous conversation, would he really be so foolhardy as to think that one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, one who regularly has political opponents assassinated abroad, would not take an interest? And in this case, Witness Protection is simply not an option.

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  58. Pylon says:

    Whether questioning would be effective or not is a good question raised by Jen – I doubt it would be, and I’d even question the reliability of a Trump appointed private translator – surely he has some Russian speaker who is totally loyal to him from his years of Russian involvement. I’m sure Putin’s translator has a completely different translation too. Putin probably doesn’t need a translator but had one anyway as extra backup.

    That said, I really doubt whether executive privilege applies here. That privilege is to ensure that the president can get candid and forthright advice from his staff without fear that the discussions of the various options and the decision-making process will be compromised. That can’t possibly apply in discussions with a third party like Putin. I’d say a “without prejudice” privilege would apply more, to the extent there were negotiations about actual disputes. However, we don’t even know that, and since Russia is now claiming there were oral agreements made, that privilege is gone.

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  59. MarkedMan says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: Here’s the deal with Pearce. He claims to be an anti-Trumper. But 100% of the time when Trump is caught up in some particularly horrible scandal, Pearce gets on here with the advice that we should just ignore it, and instead pursue some (always unnamed) other strategy. 100% of the time. He expands this to other Trump-like circumstances too. He “advised” us all that we were stupid to bring up Roy Moore’s creepy stalking of teenaged girls. He advised us, most emphatically, that Jim Jordan’s multiple accusers in the doctor-gropes-wrestlers scandal were all lying or misremembering and that it was a waste of time to try to use it against him in the election. (In fact, in that case he was disturbingly passionate about how obvious it was that the wrestlers were making things up and no matter what they said we shouldn’t believe them. To be honest, it was disturbing.)

    I’ve long wondered what Pearce’s deal was. Of course, it’s possible that he is sincere in his beliefs. But it is also possible that he is a traditional troll, i.e. someone who will say anything at all to provoke a reaction. There’s the bot theory, but I don’t think bots are that good yet. My pet theory is that he is the Russian or Trumpian equivalent of a Chinese “ten-cent-er”. This comes from the very disparaging term given to an estimated 1M recent college grads employed by the Chinese government to help police the internet. (It is used the same way we use “burger flipper” to denote someone who left college but has no meaningful job prospects.) The term comes from the fact that they are paid for each micro-interaction they have on Weibo or Weixin. In one variation, the word comes down that the government is unhappy with Apple (this really happened), and they start casually posting negative things about Apple. They get paid a little for each negative comment and get bonuses if people share or respond to these comments, negatively or positively. They have dozens or even hundreds of fake accounts.

    It may sound outlandish, but the Chinese are paying literally billions of dollars for these types of interactions. Why should we assume that they are only doing so inside their own country? And why should we assume it is limited to them?

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  60. MarkedMan says:

    (BTW, If anyone is motivated to look up the Chinese ten-cent-er, you should look up “wu mao dang”, “wumaodang” or “Fifty Cent Army”. When I lived in China, we expats called them ten-cent-ers because, a) it was roughly the value of five mao (wu mao) in US currency, and b) we had learned that it was better to use euphemisms for certain things rather than say them outright, even in English.)

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  61. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James Pearce:

    If I’m defending anything it’s a calm, cool, rational approach. That should come back into vogue.

    James – maybe you couldn’t see the implications, and I’ll assume that it is some type of optimism on your part.

    But now, just a few days later, here is the reality: The shit has hit the fan, and NO ONE can validate what has been discussed.

    Putin Tells Diplomats He Made Trump a New Offer on Ukraine at Their Summit

    As Russians describe ‘verbal agreements’ at summit, U.S. officials scramble for clarity

    Lawmakers condemn White House suggestion that Kremlin could interrogate former US ambassador

    Tump could have given away the farm, and we have no way of knowing.

    Putin is a sly fox, Trump is now roadkill.

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  62. Liberal Capitalist says:

    (fyi: previous comment in moderation due to links)

    @James Pearce:

    Oh, I will. When the idea occurred to me, it was like a lightbulb going off in my head. “They’re trying to reach a tipping point where forces other than their own –the news media, or maybe the courts, Mueller!– wins the war. They’re trying to win hearts and minds by burning down hooches.” I could go on. “They’re allied with a corrupt, hated regime.” I got more. You want more?

    OK, I see now… You see politics and governing as a “war”. So the whole “culture war” is a projection of YOUR world view onto others.

    You may want to take a step back and consider this: Most liberals don’t want a “war”. We just want to have a country where we can live a good life. “We” being ANY of the “we the people” people… not just the richest of the rich.

    And we believe that government should exist for the benefit of citizens, not a game that needs to be won at any cost.

    Mueller, and what he is doing, isn’t a game. it’s about calling out lawbreakers for breaking the law. and, Mueller is not a “liberal”… last time I checked, he was a Republican… so the leader of your “liberal culture war” example is a conservative American that believes in the law.

    Seriously, your worldview may have a few problems.

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