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House chairmen consult with counsel about ways to get notes from Trump-Putin meetings
A pair of House Democratic chairmen have reportedly been consulting with the chamber's general counsel to try to force President Trump to divulge information from his private meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) have been meeting with House general counsel Douglas Letter about the best way to compel the White House to hand over documents or other information about the one-on-one conversations, Politico reports.
"I had a meeting with the general counsel to discuss this and determine the best way to find out what took place in those private meetings - whether it's by seeking the interpreter's testimony, the interpreter's notes, or other means," Schiff told the newspaper.
Neither Schiff's nor Engel's office immediately responded to requests for comment from The Hill.
The consultations set up a potential clash between House Democrats and the White House over Congress's oversight authority into the Trump administration.
House members often meet with the chamber's general counsel on issues that might make their way to the courts.
Democrats have repeatedly excoriated Trump's flattering rhetoric toward Putin, expressing particular concern over what the two leaders spoke about in a private meeting in Helsinki last July, when they met without any aides. After the meeting, Trump contradicted the U.S. intelligence community by suggesting he believed Putin's claims Moscow did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats called on Marina Gross, the State Department translator who attended the meeting, to publicly testify and hand over her notes from the talk.
"I'm not saying that I'm in favor of interpreters turning over all their notes, but I do think that it shouldn't be up to the president to hide the notes," Engel told Politico.
The effort to uncover what Trump and Putin talked about ramped up last month after it was reported that the president went to great lengths to conceal details of a conversation he had with Putin, directly telling his translator not to discuss the meeting with other officials in his administration.
A Democratic aide told Politico that story prompted lawyers from the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees to begin figuring out how to obtain documents and information from the private talks.
"We are concerned about it because it's been many months since Putin and Trump met in Helsinki, and we still have no idea what they talked about," Engel said. "That lack of transparency is troubling."
Schiff added that his talks with the general counsel focused on legal obstacles Trump could put in their way, including invoking executive privilege.
"That's a privilege that, based on first impression, is designed to facilitate consultations between the president and members of his staff and Cabinet - not to shield communications with a foreign leader," Schiff said. "But that's just a preliminary take. And once we get the studied opinion of the general counsel, then we'll decide how to go forward."
The Financial Times also reported late last month that Trump and Putin met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in November without a translator or aide from the Trump administration present.
Trump has already slammed Democrats for probing his White House, saying the investigations could interfere with economic growth and other progress.
"An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations," Trump said during his State of the Union address.