Last week, The Washington Post reported that Presidential asset Trump absconded with his interpreter’s notes after meeting with his handler, Vladimir Putin at the Hamburg G20. If true, this is correctly understood as an unprecedented breach in protocol and a violation of the Presidential Records Act. The noble individual at the center of this diplomatic disaster was Marina Gross, the only other American in the room, who has worked as a translator and interpreter for the State Department for at least a decade. Presidential interpreters often bring years of diplomatic experience to a summit and are required by the Office of Language Services to pass rigorous exams on general knowledge. Gross, then, would have been demonstrably more qualified to communicate directly with Putin than the man she was there to interpret for.
Last year, the Republican chaired House Intelligence Committee refused to shine any light on the Hamburg meeting. However, with a new Democratic majority, there are renewed calls from public officials, including Congressman Adam Schiff, that Gross be subpoenaed and forced to testify in front of Congress. While that may make for a thrilling scene in the inevitable cinematic adaptation of this morass, there are several procedural obstacles to overcome before any catharsis.
Gross may simply refuse to testify, choosing instead to adhere to interpreters’ strong ethical and professional code of confidentiality. The subpoena Congress issues would have to acknowledge the creation of a new precedent for all future confidential conversations between non-English-speaking officials, and adequately elucidate why this meeting is unlike any other. Considering the multiple investigations of the relationship between Trump and Russia, this should be a simple demonstration. In response, it is almost certain that the Trump administration would object on the grounds of executive privilege, and this would likely be upheld as the Supreme Court acknowledged in U.S. v. Nixon “the valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties.” It is possible that in these hyperbolic times, cliché may refresh, and as “desperate times call for desperate measures” the myriad scandals of the Trump presidency may require a recognition that the privileges of the executive are correctly questioned if their sole function is to obfuscate. The abnormal behaviors of this administration must be rectified, and that may require Marina Gross to break with the honor of her profession, and instead honor justice itself.