Trump and Putin's meeting (factual question)

Hi SD,

I heard Putin met with Trump privately, with only interpreters present.

What guarantee is there that the interpreters won’t go public with the information that they pass between the two leaders? Surely, with such world-changing stakes, safeguards must be in place? I wouldn’t want to be the only one in the world that knows the content of these conversations. That must be a lot of pressure! What risks are there in interpretation at this level, and how is it possible to keep that information private? Would an interpreter go rogue and reveal what he knows? Would unsavory types try and kidnap interpreters to extract information for personal or political gain?

Thanks for any information.

I am not an expert on high-level government interpreters, but these are not just people off the street. They are full-time government employees and are hand picked for their skills and loyalty. They are trained to do their jobs, which includes not discussing the details of any conversation they are interpreting.

Could an interpreter go rogue? Sure, any government employee could go rogue, but then they would be publicly humiliated, fired from their job and lose their government pension, and they would likely never work in that particular field again. So, could it happen? Sure, anything can happen. Is it likely to happen? No, unless they are forced to reveal a conversation to Congress, which seems highly unlikely to me.

This NYT article is very informative.

The article goes on to say that even trying to remember the full dialog is difficult after the fact because interpreting relies so much on short term memory. If notes are needed, there is a separate note taker.

Ms Gross has been widely mentioned as Trump’s interpreter, was she really the only interpreter present or did Putin have his own one as well?

I have a couple comments here. First place, while interpreters do not have privilege and thus could be put under oath and forced to testify, they do have a code of conduct that requires confidentiality (unless compelled as said).

My second comment is that they will not necessarily recall what was said. I was party to a demo of simultaneous interpretation. This may have been different because he was doing two-way interpretation. I spoke English and a third person spoke French. The interpreter (who had grown up in Detroit in a French Canadian family) interpreted what each of us said. This lasted perhaps 5 minutes, being just a demo. Afterwards the interpreter made two comments. First that if, say, I had thrown in a French phrase, he would have put it in English, since he was in automatic mode. Second, and what is relevant for this thread, he didn’t have the faintest idea what either of us had said during that five minutes. He was simply in a different cognitive state.

Yes, they each had their own.

Are you sure about that?

I thought that it was a settled point of law that pensions were earned compensation, and could not be taken away from employees at a whim. Even employees convicted of embezzling from the company can’t have their pensions just taken away – the court has to order that x% of their pension be withheld as reimbursement for their theft.

Yes, I’ve never understood this trope - basically, your pension is part of your earned income. For each year you work at an employer, instead of direct pay the employer has put a portion of your pay into a fund to be paid to you after retirement. No matter how badly you behave, taking a pension is no different than going and raiding your bank account and demanding you give back all your previous wages.

But then, this is America we’re talking about.

(In Canada, your retirement savings - pension funds and RRSP, a 401K equivalent - are even generally protected from bankruptcy proceedings.)

But to return to the OP - I assume the official interpreter(s) to the president are not trivial $50,000 a year employees; they likely have a top level security clearance and have been vetted, have a certain loyalty to the job if not the administration, and are well aware that any slip could be career-ending. Plus depending on what they might say, I suspect there are certain topics where official secrets are a factor and prosecution could result.

But the same applies to almost any other government official, many far more motivated to blab. Comey revealed the content of his meetings because it was relevant to clear his name and display highly inappropriate conduct by the president; but there are hundreds of (ex)cabinet ministers, ambassadors, and others who keep confidence about meetings, cabinet deliberations, etc. (until silence is no longer relevant) despite significant motivations to tell all. A person with a reputation for not holding confidence will have difficulty holding any future jobs.

If I had to make a wild guess, any compelled testimony from the interpreter will be held behind closed doors. If we ever find out the details, it will be from leaks by congress.

Sorry, I misspoke there. They wouldn’t lose whatever pension they had already earned, but if fired their pension percentage would stop increasing, assuming they hadn’t max’d it out. They can’t take away what you have already earned, but you wouldn’t earn any more is a better answer.

this this is why you take a stenographer to a meeting so that the translator isn’t the only official record.