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Letters: The Article ‘Sending Chills Through the Interpreter Community’

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Subpoena the Interpreter

Last week, The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump has gone to extreme lengths to conceal the details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On at least one occasion, the Post reported, Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter. While questioning the interpreter about the substance of Trump and Putin’s talks would constitute a breach of norms, “pretending now that the old rules can function as intended is not only delusive, but dangerous,” David Frum wrote. “Subpoena the interpreter now.”

In his arguments for subpoenaing Trump’s interpreter, Frum ignores the fact that the Supreme Court now has five conservative justices. Frum himself lists excellent arguments that these five justices could use as justification for ruling in Trump’s favor. If there were a robust dissent by the four liberals, Frum would get the worst of both worlds: The interpreter would not testify and, because the decision was merely 5–4, foreign government officials would be reluctant to be candid in their meetings with a U.S. president.

Jack Harllee
Washington, D.C.

If we were willing to force Secret Service agents to testify about what they saw or heard while with the president, what’s so different about subpoenaing an interpreter?

Pat Southward
Lake Mary, Fla.

I have not seen anyone raise the issue yet of the information that is being lost to history and to future historians. Trump’s appalling ignorance of history makes it clear that he has no respect for the subject.

Susan Rappoport
Fallbrook, Calif.

I respect that Mr. Frum is concerned about the potential gravity of private conversations between President Trump and Vladimir Putin; however, I don’t believe that subpoenaing the American interpreter who was present for one of their meetings at the G20 summit in Hamburg is the correct course.

Three parties were present for the second Hamburg conversation mentioned in David Frum’s article: Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and the Russian interpreter. Assuming that Putin would not extradite himself or his interpreter to testify in front of Congress, the remaining option would be to directly subpoena President Trump to answer questions about what, specifically, was discussed during these meetings. The best avenue for this would be a closed-door meeting between the president and members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (chaired by Eliot Engel). The committee may then choose to release a public report that outlines the broad strokes of the meeting without delving into specifics that are sensitive for national-security reasons.

There is, of course, the counterargument that Donald Trump would either lie, plead the Fifth, or be so intentionally vague as to give no new information at all to Congress and the American people about what conversations are being had at the highest level of foreign affairs. However, lying under oath is itself a federal crime, and if Trump is not forthcoming, then an interview with the interpreter may be in order only to confirm or deny what President Trump stated under oath in his testimony. If inconsistencies exist, then a more thorough investigation could follow. David Frum is correct in his concern about President Trump’s cavalier approach to foreign affairs with Vladimir Putin. However, before Mr. Frum pushes for a breach in the ethical wall of interpreters, I’d just like to suggest that he first consider going directly to the source of all these conversations: Trump himself.

Colten Michael
Logan, Utah

“Mr. Interpreter, could you please tell the court what the accused said three sentences ago?”

“I’m sorry, your honor, but I honestly have no idea. Please just ask him the question over again.”

As a professional courtroom interpreter for 15 years, I had exchanges like this on a regular basis. Was I hiding something from the judge? Was I protecting the defendant that I was interpreting for? Not at all. It’s simply that the mechanics of interpreting, especially simultaneously interpreting, involve not really paying attention to what is being said. It is an almost automatic process. Zen, if you will. Or to be less mystical, it’s like your drive home. “Ma’am, could you tell us what business you passed three blocks before you got home?” Absolutely not. You were driving, not thinking.

Questions of ethics aside, to expect an interpreter to recall a conversation from months back is simply an impossible request. And it would have been just as impossible one minute after the exchange.

David Frum’s piece is sending chills through the interpreter community.

Robert Jackson
Miami, Fla.

It is with undivided horror that I read your article, which advocated compelling testimony from Trump’s interpreter.

An interpreter must perform a very demanding task: rendering on the fly a set of ideas expressed in a foreign language. Among other difficulties, the interpreter must choose between synonyms, with no opportunity to weigh the consequences of his or her choice.

This work is intensely stressful, performed within an immediacy that affords no delay. An interpreter cannot be a reliable witness unless he or she dwells upon what is being said, and in the process fails to perform adequately.

Compelling the interpreter to provide testimony would have a severe chilling effect and damage useful diplomacy.

Philip Buchet
San Francisco, Calif.

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1 hour ago
So this was to all intents a private meeting of only two people, either of whom can state THEIR understanding of what was said.
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Border Patrol union deletes 2012 anti-border wall web page that argued walls waste taxpayer money

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A union that represents agents for the U.S. Border Patrol deleted a 2012 page from their website that said building walls or fences along the U.S./Mexico border to stop desperate migrants would be “wasting taxpayer money.”

VICE's Motherboard reports that the deleted web page was originally posted in 2012. It carried an argument against walls like the one Trump's pushing today, and said border barriers don’t tackle migration's root causes, and may encourage more migrants to enter the U.S. through visa overstay.

The Wayback Machine archives at archive.org show the page was deleted after the union's president supported building a border wall with Donald Trump in the White House Briefing Room on January 3, 2019.

Video of that stunt above.

From Motherboard:

That statement came from the official website of the NBPC’s “Media FAQ” page which argued at length against the policy of building border walls. The page, originally published in October 2012, was deleted on or after January 4, according to archives obtained through the Wayback Machine. This was the day after the press briefing, and four days before President Trump gave a prime-time television address arguing for Congress to spend $5.7 billion in order to build a larger wall along the US-Mexico border.

“Walls and fences are temporary solutions that focus on the symptom (illegal immigration) rather than the problem (employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens),” the now-deleted page says.

The Media FAQ page has not been replaced, and a link to the Media FAQ page has also been removed from the NBPC website. The NBPC did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment. Though the FAQ argues at length against building a wall, it does note that “as long as we continue to operate under the current [National Border Patrol Strategy] and ignore the problem that is causing illegal immigration, we realize fences and walls are essential.”

The deletion of pages on federally-funded, .gov websites—such as the Environmental Protection Agency pages relating to climate change—can be caused by top-down mandates from the Trump administration. But the NBPC website exists at a .org rather than a .gov web address, and it is unclear what specifically spurred the deletion of the Media FAQ page. The White House did not immediately return Motherboard’s request for comment.

Here's a screengrab, via VICE.

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Trump is doing immense damage. He has a hidden helper. - The Washington Post


Two new blockbuster scoops about President Trump’s relations with Russia — combined with fresh signs that Trump will drag out the government shutdown indefinitely — should renew our focus on the quiet but critical role that Mitch McConnell has played in enabling the damage that Trump is doing to the country on so many fronts.

As the shutdown drags into its fourth week, causing cascading impacts around the country, The Post reports that pressure is now likely to intensify on the Senate majority leader to allow votes on measures reopening the government. Three Senate Republicans have already called for a reopening, and as one GOP strategist puts it, a few more coming out “changes the calculus” for McConnell.

Meanwhile, thanks to new reporting over the weekend, the basic question of whether Trump has at pivotal moments acted in Russia’s interests, to the detriment of U.S. interests — is being thrust to the forefront with new urgency.

This should cause us to revisit the role that McConnell played during the campaign in preventing members of Congress from showing a united public front against Russian sabotage of the election.

The New York Times reports that after Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director, FBI officials began an investigation into whether Trump had been working for Russian interests. The concern was that, in obstructing the FBI’s inquiry, Trump might have made it harder to determine what Russia had done during the election — thus helping Russia skirt accountability for an attack on American democracy.

As the FBI general counsel at the time bluntly put it, a crucial theoretical question was whether “the president of the United States fired Jim Comey at the behest of Russia,” impairing an effort to determine the scope of a “threat to national security.”

Meanwhile, The Post reports that Trump has gone to great lengths to conceal his private discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin from even his own advisers. The result: “there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years.”

Revisiting McConnell’s role during the campaign

One shadow narrative unfolding in the background over the past two years has been the gradual discovery of just how broad the scope of Russian sabotage of the 2016 election really was. This has made certain events during the campaign appear more serious in retrospect.

In September 2016, as The Post has reported, top Obama administration officials privately asked senior congressional leaders in both parties to go public with a united front against Russian interference. But McConnell refused, claiming (in The Post’s words) that “he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.” McConnell also questioned the intelligence demonstrating Russian sabotage.

We have since learned a great deal about the Russian interference that McConnell raised doubts about. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictments of Russian nationals laid out a very detailed plot to corruptly swing the election. More recently, Senate Intelligence Committee reports demonstrated the extraordinary reach of the Russian disinformation campaign, which included elaborate efforts to divide the country on racial and cultural lines.

Remember, it was widely known during the election that some sort of Russian interference efforts were taking place. Candidate Trump was downplaying the seriousness of these efforts, or dismissing them altogether.

It’s hard to know how much of a difference it would have made if congressional leaders went public with bipartisan acknowledgment and condemnation of the Russian interference effort. But it certainly could have helped educate the public and shed light on just how indefensible Trump’s downplaying of Russian sabotage really was. Of course, that might have hurt Trump’s candidacy, so for McConnell, it was apparently a nonstarter.

Now we discover that there is fresh reason to wonder just how deep Trump’s loyalties to Putin and Russia ran throughout that whole period. What we still do not know is how detailed and convincing a briefing McConnell and other officials received on what was happening. We should revisit this.

What’s more, we’re also learning that in the view of intelligence officials, Trump’s obstruction of justice efforts were potentially more damaging to the country than we thought. They concluded that by firing Comey, Trump was making it harder to learn the truth about Russian sabotage of our democracy irrespective of whether there was any collusion.

In retrospect, failure to protect Mueller looks worse

This raises new questions about another McConnell action: The refusal to hold votes on legislation protecting the special counsel. In fairness, Trump has still not moved successfully against Mueller. But McConnell scuttled efforts to protect Mueller even though Trump privately tried to fire him twice. There’s still time for Trump to act, and passing such protections — which the Democratic House would support — would plainly make any such action, and the damage it would cause, less likely.

There’s also a forward-looking dimension here. As the Lawfare podcast notes, if FBI officials opened a separate investigation into whether Trump was obstructing the probe to help Russia, it’s plausible McConnell and other congressional officials were briefed on this. That would make the failure to act to shield Mueller worse. We need to know more about this, too.

On the shutdown front, McConnell continues to refuse votes on bills reopening the government that have already passed the House. McConnell claims there’s no point, because Trump wouldn’t sign them. But this actively shields Trump from having to veto bills funding the government, which would make it much harder for him to keep holding out. Worse, McConnell privately told Trump in December he has no leverage and no endgame here, meaning McConnell knows full well that not forcing Trump’s hand leaves us adrift with no exit in sight.

Meanwhile, what happens if Trump declares a national emergency to build his wall, a nakedly autocratic act that will further damage our institutions? Under the National Emergencies Act, both chambers of Congress have the authority to reverse such a declaration. Will McConnell’s Senate take such a step, or will he allow Trump to rampage forward on this, too?

In much discussion of all these matters, there is a terrible rhetorical habit of treating GOP conduct toward Trump as mere passive acquiescence. In fact, this is better seen as an active enabling, on one front after another. And we are likely to learn much more about just how damaging this has been soon enough.

Read more:

James Downie: No wonder Trump is in such a foul mood

Greg Sargent: Is there a way to break Trump’s will? One Democrat has an idea.

Jennifer Rubin: Does Mitch McConnell know he’s part of the first branch of government?

Jennifer Rubin: The GOP refuses to govern. So why not step aside?

Ann Telnaes cartoon: Mitch McConnell is the reason we still have a shutdown

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2 hours ago
Trump's enablers are at least as much to blame. They gave the five year old the cookie jar, encouraged him to stick his hand in, and are still helping him unwrap the sweeties. They forget their responsibility to the American people.
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5 days ago
Trump is the modern GOP and it’s time for the mainstream discussion to reflect how he’s not an anomaly
Washington, DC

Hillary Clinton reminds the world that she warned us


Don’t say we weren’t warned.

During the third and final presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle, Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump a “puppet.” A few years and one potentially damning New York Times story later, and Clinton is looking pretty savvy. And she has no qualms reminding everyone that she tried to warn us.

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EPA at a 30-year low for referring pollution cases for criminal prosecution


Polluters likely had a good year in 2018. According to numbers from advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the number of criminal pollution cases that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) referred to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution was lower in 2018 than it had been in 30 years.

That's probably not because industry in America is becoming more environmentally conscious. PEER suggests the reason for the low number of referrals is that the EPA is only employing between 130 and 140 special agents in the agency's Criminal Investigation Division, less than the minimum 200 agents specified by the US Pollution Prevention Act of 1990.

The EPA only referred 166 cases to the Justice Department in 2018. According to numbers from the Associated Press, referrals peaked in 1998, with 592 cases referred for prosecution. Throughout the George W. Bush presidency, referrals ranged somewhere between 300 and 450. Referrals dipped during the Obama presidency to a range between 200 and just over 400. Referrals have been on a downward trend since 2012.

Convictions on pollution-related grounds were also at a record low. Only 62 polluters were convicted in 2018, the lowest since 1992. Convictions numbers tend to follow referrals numbers.

PEER says these numbers are likely to continue. In the most recent two months, only 24 cases were referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. (However, PEER put out a similar report in 2017 projecting that only 120 cases would be referred in 2018, a prediction that was obviously overly pessimistic.)

In a statement to the Associated Press, the EPA said it was directing "its resources to the most significant and impactful cases." The Trump administration has repeatedly proposed cuts to the EPA's budget, but Congress has largely kept EPA funding in place.

While it's unsurprising that PEER, a group made up of public employees, would advocate for increasing the numbers of special agents employed at the EPA, an investigation initiated by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) seems to share PEER's concern.

On Tuesday, The Hill reported that the GAO was also looking into low enforcement numbers at the EPA, specifically concerning abnormally low settlements made with polluters in 2017. In 2017, the EPA only collected $1.6 billion in penalties, down from $5.7 billion the prior year.

PEER has had recent legal success challenging the current administration's EPA. In 2017, PEER requested information from the EPA through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) asking it to provide evidence for former Administrator Scott Pruitt's comments on national TV that carbon dioxide was not known to be a major contributor to climate change. The EPA never provided that information to PEER, so the group sued the EPA, and in 2018, a judge ordered the EPA to turn over any information it had on Pruitt's statements or admit that it had none.

In August, the EPA was unable to turn anything of substance up, but the agency said it would continue with an electronic search. In October, the EPA sent PEER a single document of Congressional correspondence in which Pruitt answered questions posed by the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The EPA was unable to provide any scientific evidence to support former Administrator Pruitt's statements.

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Environmental Pollution Agency
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4 days ago
You have to weigh kids with cancer against the sweet yachts some executives can buy this way
Washington, DC

North Korean hackers infiltrate Chile's ATM network after Skype job interview

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A Skype call and a gullible employee was all it took for North Korean hackers to infiltrate the computer network of Redbanc, the company that interconnects the ATM infrastructure of all Chilean banks.

Prime suspects behind the hack are a hacker group known as Lazarus Group (or Hidden Cobra), known to have associations to the Pyongyang regime, is one of the most active and dangerous hacking groups around, and known to have targeted banks, financial institutions, and cryptocurrency exchanges in the past years.

Lazarus' most recent attack took place at the end of December last year but only came to the public's attention after Chilean Senator Felipe Harboe called out Redbanc on Twitter last week for not disclosing its security breach.

The company, which has direct lines into the networks of all Chilean banks, formally admitted to the hack a day later in a message posted on its website, but that announcement didn't include any details about the intrusion.

However, a day after Redbanc's admission, an investigation conducted by Chilean tech news site trendTIC revealed that the financial firm was the victim of a serious cyber-attack, and not something that could be easily dismissed.

According to reporters, the source of the hack was identified as a LinkedIn ad for a developer position at another company to which one of the Redbanc employees applied.

The hiring company, believed to be a front for the Lazarus Group operators who realized they baited a big fish, approached the Redbanc employee for an interview, which they conducted in Spanish via a Skype call.

trendTIC reports that during this interview, the Redbanc employee was asked to download, install, and run a file named ApplicationPDF.exe, a program that would help with the recruitment process and generate a standard application form.

But according to an analysis of this executable by Vitali Kremez, Director of Research at Flashpoint, the file downloaded and installed PowerRatankba, a malware strain previously linked to Lazarus Group hacks, according to a Proofpoint report published in December 2017.

The malware, Kremez said, collected information about the Redbanc employee's work PC and sent it back to a remote server. Collected information included the PC's username, hardware and OS details, proxy settings, a list of current processes, if the infected host had RPC and SMB open file shares, and the status of its RDP connection.

The collected information would have been able to tell the hackers what computer they infected, and later decide if they'd want to deliver a second stage payload in the form of a more intrusive PowerShell script.

The Redbanc incident is yet another example of how one worker clicking on the wrong link or running the wrong file can result in a major security breach, and how one hacked PC or laptop can lead to an entire network getting compromised.

Previously, according to an indictment by US authorities, Lazarus Group hackers have been accused of attempting to steal money from Banco de Chile, a local Chilean bank.

More cybersecurity news:

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2 hours ago
Worse, the employee was interviewing for a developer job - he should have known better than to download and install any random file.
Even worse, he was using his work pc to apply for a job somewhere else!
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