A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the government’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the administration had committed a serious violation of federal records laws after a 2017 meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The meeting between the two heads of state took place at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, and was also attended by then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a State Department interpreter. After the meeting, Trump reportedly seized the interpreter’s notes and told the interpreter not to discuss what had been talked about.
Democracy Forward and American Oversight sued the administration, including the State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the U.S. Archivist, for failing to preserve the notes as required by the Federal Records Act. That law requires the State Department to notify the National Archives when meeting notes are seized or destroyed, to try to recover the notes, and to refer the incident to the attorney general for enforcement action.
In his ruling on Wednesday, Judge Trevor McFadden of the District Court for the District of Columbia said that Democracy Forward and American Oversight had plausibly alleged an unlawful removal of official records, and denied the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
“The administration has done everything it can to hide what Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump discussed in Hamburg,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “Today’s ruling is an important step to ensuring the government complied with its legal obligations.”
Trump’s meetings with Putin have often been shrouded in secrecy. Less than a year after Trump’s alleged note-snatching in Hamburg, the two leaders kicked out everyone except interpreters during a meeting in Helsinki, Finland. And during a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in May 2017, before his trip to Hamburg, Trump had revealed highly classified information about a terrorism plot.
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