On Those Helsinki Translator Notes

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June 16, 2021 3:17 p.m.

This morning ABC News reported that Democrats are no longer seeking translator notes for President Trump’s notorious meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland in 2018. “The Biden administration is looking forward, not back,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), a phrase which is likely more grating to Democrats than any save “bipartisan compromise”. I will say that I am at best ‘meh’ on the Biden administration’s management of the Trump accountability issue. Not surprisingly, this report is being greeted with pretty intense consternation. But there’s a part of this I don’t think people are figuring on.

Put simply, Biden doesn’t need to seek the transcripts or try to talk to the translator. He already has the transcripts. The moment President Biden took the oath of office he, as President, took possession of all the records of the United States government. That definitely includes the notes of that meeting.

To the extent we’re trying to get to the bottom of what happened, there’s no need to go through a process of the Congress trying to get access to those notes. Like all administrations this one remains leery of setting precedents for future congressional oversight. So it may not want to turn them over.

But again, Secretary of State Tony Blinken can probably ask for those notes and be reading them this afternoon. Of course that applies to his boss, Joe Biden, through whose authority Blinken works.

I don’t think this necessarily solves the question or the problem. Have they done this? We don’t know – though it’s a bit hard for me to believe either man would want to go into today’s meeting without knowing as much as they could about what was discussed or promised three years ago.

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And this isn’t the entirety of the matter. As we’ve discussed in other contexts, accountability almost always must mean public accountability. It’s not enough to have one appointee or bureaucrat know these answers, if we can trust they will avail themselves of the opportunity to look up the answers. These are fundamentally political questions about the nation’s future. As the sovereign authority in the republic the public needs these answers to govern.

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