Groups Sue Pompeo for Refusing to Address Trump’s Unlawful Efforts to Hide Putin Meeting Notes

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Today, Democracy Forward and American Oversight filed suit against Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for refusing to address President Donald Trump’s unlawful seizure of an interpreter’s notes during a private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017.

Pompeo’s failure to preserve and recover these records violates the Federal Records Act, which requires his department to notify the National Archives when meeting notes are seized or destroyed, to recover those notes, and to refer the incident to the attorney general for enforcement action.

The lawsuit follows demand letters sent by American Oversight in January and Democracy Forward in February, alerting Pompeo to the fact that he was ignoring his legal obligations by allowing Trump’s seizure of meeting records to go unaddressed.

“We aren’t talking about old outtakes from The Apprentice,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “This may be the only written record of a meeting between two heads of state, and the interpreter’s notes can’t be seized or destroyed just because President Trump might want them hidden. President Trump and Secretary Pompeo might not like it, but the law requires that the interpreter’s notes are recovered and preserved.”

The meeting between Trump and Putin took place at the 2017 G20 summit in Germany. This year’s G20 summit takes place in Japan at the end of the month, where Trump is expected to meet with Putin.

“Secretary Pompeo is breaking the law by allowing President Trump’s unlawful seizure of agency records to go unchecked,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “On the eve of another meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin, Secretary Pompeo’s actions ensure that our relationship with Russia remains shrouded in secrecy, with the American government left in the dark.”

Trump has made repeated attempts to conceal the content of his multiple meetings with Putin. In his first meeting with the Russian government, Trump reportedly revealed highly classified information to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister.

The lawsuit was filed under the Federal Records Act on June 18, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Department of State, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Archivist of the United States.