President Donald Trump met several times with Russian President Vladimir Putin while no other American was privy to the communication except for a State Department interpreter.
In July 2018, Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee had proposed to subpoena the interpreter and her notes to find out what was said in the meeting, but the motion was rejected by Republican committee members.
Now, reports allege that President Trump took possession of the interpreter’s notes at the end of at least one private meeting with Putin and instructed the linguist not to discuss the content of the meeting with anyone, including other administration officials.
Democrats, now in control of the U.S. House, are reconsidering a subpoena to the interpreter to learn what was said.
I teach M.A. students of translation and interpretation and work as a conference interpreter. Here’s a brief overview of the role of interpreters and the ethics of the profession regarding confidentiality.
The role of an interpreter is to facilitate communication between parties who use different languages.
Interpreters are not responsible for the content of what is said by either party. They are responsible for ensuring that everything that is said is conveyed accurately in the other language.
The code of ethics for professional conference interpreters states that they “shall be bound by the strictest secrecy, which must be observed towards all persons and with regard to all information disclosed in the course of the practice of the profession at any gathering not open to the public.”
Diplomatic interpreters are a subset of these professionals who must pass security clearances, and be mindful of diplomatic protocol and national interests. However, the ethics of confidentiality remains the same in diplomatic settings. Officials must be able to fully trust that interpreters will not reveal confidential information.
Diplomatic tradition has therefore respected the norm that interpreters should not be obliged to give testimony. I am not aware of any precedent to compel a diplomatic interpreter to testify about the substance of a meeting in which he or she was interpreted.
There are also practical considerations that could limit what anyone could learn from an interpreter’s notes.
Interpreter notes are systematic but vary greatly from person to person. They are designed to trigger the interpreter’s short-term memory, and provide an incomplete roadmap of what was said.
In some cases, the interpreter may take no notes at all for some portions of the dialogue. Or, the interpreter may be familiar enough with the subject matter that he or she only writes down items that are particularly taxing on the memory – like numbers or proper nouns. In other cases, the notes are a collection of arrows, squiggles, words and symbols that only the interpreter could decipher, and only when the echo of what was just said is reverberating in the interpreter’s short-term memory.
In other words, context matters.
Beyond this, the high focus and concentration required to faithfully convey the speaker’s message while juggling two different languages is such that recalling exactly what was said may be challenging even a few hours after a meeting is over, not to mention months later.
Given these ethical and practical challenges, compelling an interpreter to testify or provide interpretation notes may face ethical challenges and may not, in the end, prove useful.
Trump-loving neo-Nazi charged with insanely violent threats against Latino woman
Federal agents arrested a Washington state man who allegedly threatened to "exterminate" Latinos as part of a race war he believed would be launched by President Donald Trump.
According to court documents, Eric Lin frequently praised Nazi leader Adolf Hitler online and sent multiple death threats against a woman in Miami and plotted to pay a man to beat her up, reported the Miami New Times.
"The time will come when Miami will burn to the ground — and every Latin Man will be lined up against a Wall and Shot and every Latin Woman Raped or Cut to Pieces," Lin wrote Aug. 8, according to investigators.
Republican senator heckled and booed during raucous town hall for blaming mass shootings on mental illness
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who is up for reelection in 2020 and is among the Republican senators who is considered vulnerable, discussed the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio during a town hall event in her home state this week —and she was booed and heckled when she echoed President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and blamed “mental illness” for the killings.
Republicans likely to block ‘background checks’ after Trump’s abrupt reversal: report
After two mass shootings over one weekend, President Donald Trump signaled that he would be open to strengthening background checks.
He promptly dropped his resolve to sign gun regulations one week later when he said that there were already strong background checks on the books.
With the president's apparent reversal, Republicans in Congress also appear to be abandoning legislation, reports Politico.
“I really don’t see the dynamic having really changed there much,” Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson told Politico. “I don’t anticipate we’re going to pass a federal red flag law."