If President Joe Biden has any private words with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at their meeting next week, US interpreters and diplomats will be standing by to document their high-stakes encounter, per the AP. It’s a decades-old system meant to ensure that senior officials, and ultimately historians, have a record of what American presidents say to international leaders. And it's one that held up—mostly—even under former President Donald Trump, including when he confiscated the notes taken by his American interpreter at a meeting with Putin in 2017. Trump's determination to keep his talks with the Russian president confidential sparked concerns about what might have occurred in those private meetings, particularly given Trump’s cozy relationship with Putin.
Former US officials acknowledge the unusual and concerning nature of Trump's desire for secrecy, which a former official familiar with the matter says also included Trump routinely waving away the usual immediate debriefings by aides after his one-on-ones with world leaders. But in the run-up to Biden's own first session with Putin as president in Geneva, the US official described the swift steps taken to preserve records of Trump's private talks with Putin. That included the veteran State Department interpreter for Trump at his hours-long private talk with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in 2018 alerting senior US officials “instantaneously” after the meeting to concerning details, including that the two men had broached invoking an existing treaty that could have allowed Russians to take part in interrogations of US officials, the former official said.
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