The White House on Thursday rejected a Democratic request for information on private conversations between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, including an interview with an interpreter who sat in on their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki last summer.
In a letter earlier this month, the House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees asked for the substance of Trump and Putin's conversations in person and by phone. They also asked for any documents related to the conversations, information on whether the talks had any impact on U.S. foreign policy, and information on whether Trump tried to conceal any evidence of them.
On Thursday, White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to the Democratic chairmen of the three committees rebuffing all those requests.
"The president must be free to engage in discussions with foreign leaders without fear that those communications will be disclosed and used as fodder for partisan political purposes," Cipollone wrote, adding, "No foreign leader would engage in private conversations with the president, or the president's senior advisors, if such conversations were subject to public disclosure (or disclosure to committees of Congress)."
Citing Supreme Court precedent, Cipollone wrote that "the conduct of foreign affairs is a matter that the Constitution assigns exclusively to the President."
The three House chairmen responded Thursday with a statement saying Cipollone's letter "continues a troubling pattern by the Trump Administration of rejecting legitimate and necessary congressional oversight with no regard for precedent or the constitution."
The March 4 letters to the White House — signed by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings — requested interviews with "linguists, translators or interpreters" who in any way listened to Trump and Putin's conversations. The two leaders met privately in Helsinki in July for more than two hours with only interpreters present, and the White House has not said what they discussed.
Multiple Democratic-led committees are battling with the White House over documents as they launch broad new investigations of Trump and his personal and political dealings. On Tuesday, Cummings accused the White House of perpetrating "an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction" in response to congressional requests for documents and witnesses.
Cummings wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that he has sent 12 letters to the White House on a range of topics ranging from security clearances to the use of taxpayer funds for lavish private aircraft. Since then, he wrote, the Trump administration has "not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony."