Lake Mary, Fla.
I have not seen anyone raise the issue yet of the information that is being lost to history and to future historians. Trump’s appalling ignorance of history makes it clear that he has no respect for the subject.
I respect that Mr. Frum is concerned about the potential gravity of private conversations between President Trump and Vladimir Putin; however, I don’t believe that subpoenaing the American interpreter who was present for one of their meetings at the G20 summit in Hamburg is the correct course.
Three parties were present for the second Hamburg conversation mentioned in David Frum’s article: Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and the Russian interpreter. Assuming that Putin would not extradite himself or his interpreter to testify in front of Congress, the remaining option would be to directly subpoena President Trump to answer questions about what, specifically, was discussed during these meetings. The best avenue for this would be a closed-door meeting between the president and members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (chaired by Eliot Engel). The committee may then choose to release a public report that outlines the broad strokes of the meeting without delving into specifics that are sensitive for national-security reasons.
There is, of course, the counterargument that Donald Trump would either lie, plead the Fifth, or be so intentionally vague as to give no new information at all to Congress and the American people about what conversations are being had at the highest level of foreign affairs. However, lying under oath is itself a federal crime, and if Trump is not forthcoming, then an interview with the interpreter may be in order only to confirm or deny what President Trump stated under oath in his testimony. If inconsistencies exist, then a more thorough investigation could follow. David Frum is correct in his concern about President Trump’s cavalier approach to foreign affairs with Vladimir Putin. However, before Mr. Frum pushes for a breach in the ethical wall of interpreters, I’d just like to suggest that he first consider going directly to the source of all these conversations: Trump himself.
“Mr. Interpreter, could you please tell the court what the accused said three sentences ago?”
“I’m sorry, your honor, but I honestly have no idea. Please just ask him the question over again.”
As a professional courtroom interpreter for 15 years, I had exchanges like this on a regular basis. Was I hiding something from the judge? Was I protecting the defendant that I was interpreting for? Not at all. It’s simply that the mechanics of interpreting, especially simultaneously interpreting, involve not really paying attention to what is being said. It is an almost automatic process. Zen, if you will. Or to be less mystical, it’s like your drive home. “Ma’am, could you tell us what business you passed three blocks before you got home?” Absolutely not. You were driving, not thinking.