Trump meetings with Putin broke the law, groups allege

A lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that President Trump violated the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act by “intentionally failing” to keep written accounts of meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and others.

The lawsuit — which was filed by the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility in Ethics in Washington, National Security Archive and Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations — mentions five specific meetings between Trump and Putin at which no note takers were allowed to document what the two leaders discussed.

“It is clear that President Trump and White House officials have gone to great lengths to hold high-level meetings with foreign governments and carry out foreign policy objectives while blatantly ignoring record keeping laws and preventing national security officials and the American people from understanding what they are doing,” Noah Bookbinder, CREW’s executive director, said in a press release. “The absence of records in these circumstances causes real, incalculable harm to our national security and poses a direct threat to transparency for the American public. We’re asking the court to compel White House officials to make and maintain these important records that let the public know what the government is up to and provide a safeguard to our history.”

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President Donald Trump meets with Vladimir Putin in Finland
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
HELSINKI, FINLAND - JULY 16, 2018: The national flags of Russia and the United States seen ahead of a meeting of Russia's President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R), U.S. President Donald Trump (C) and First lady Melania Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R), U.S. President Donald Trump (C) and First lady Melania Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
HELSINKI, FINLAND JULY 16, 2018: US President Donald Trump (L) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin give a joint news conference following their meeting at the Presidential Palace. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin react at the end of the joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
U.S. President Donald Trump receives a football from Russia's President Vladimir Putin during their joint news conference after a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C), U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and First lady Melania Trump pose for a picture with a football during a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
HELSINKI, FINLAND JULY 16, 2018: US First Lady Melania Trump, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and US President Donald Trump (L-R) after a news conference at the Presidential Palace. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump holds a football thrown to her by U.S. President Donald Trump during his joint news conference with Russia's President Vladimir Putin after a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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In January, the Washington Post reported that Trump had confiscated the notes his interpreter had kept during a 2017 meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany, in an attempt to conceal what the two leaders discussed.

Trump also held a private meeting Putin at Decembers’s G-20 summit in Argentina at which no interpreters were present. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders described the meeting as “informal,” but refused to comment on what was discussed.

Last week, Trump held an hour-long phone conversation with Putin, during which the president said he discussed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. While the Kremlin provided reporters with a readout of the call, the White House did not. Instead, Trump offered a brief summary to reporters gathered in the Oval Office as well as to his followers on Twitter.

Passed in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the Presidential Records Act of 1978 states that a president must preserve and make public all records relating to the performance of his or her duties. Enacted in 1950, the Federal Records Act established the legal framework for federal records management.

Tom Blanton, director at National Security Archive, noted that his organization filed similar lawsuits against past presidents.

“The Archive went to court to preserve presidential records when President Reagan tried to junk his email backup tapes in 1989. We have sued every president ever since, Democratic and Republican, to make sure the White House obeyed the records laws,” said National Security Archive director Tom Blanton. “Today, the problem goes beyond improperly shredding records, to the deliberate failure to create the records in the first place.”

In response to a separate lawsuit filed by CREW and other watchdog groups alleging that the Trump administration’s use of use of encrypted and self-erasing apps violates the law, Justice Department lawyer Steven Myers argued that “courts cannot review the president’s compliance with the Presidential Records Act.”

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