Off the record
July 16, 2018

President Trump's controversial decisions to meet with antagonistic world leaders will go down in the history books. The actual content of those meetings, however, will not.

His Monday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was a one-on-one conversation, with only translators present, reports The Wall Street Journal. One official said Trump didn't want to invite note-takers into the room to avoid leaks — but that also means that there will be no official record of the meeting.

Trump also met alone with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month, and the two leaders had fairly different accounts of the conversation after it ended: Trump said that North Korea would immediately completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program, while Kim claimed he had agreed only to a "step-by-step" process with U.S. security guarantees.

Trump has said that he would ask Putin about election meddling, Syria, and nuclear weapons, but experts are concerned that Russia might offer a misleading account of the conversation. The meeting was scheduled to last for an hour and a half but stretched more than two hours, Reuters reported. While there will be no official historical record of what was discussed, Trump and Putin will hold a joint press conference following the meeting to give reporters at least some information. Unless Russia secretly records the meeting, we'll have to take their word for it. Summer Meza

July 1, 2014

Members of Congress no longer need to reveal on their financial disclosure forms who picks up the tab for their all-expenses-paid trips, according to National Journal. What's more, the disclosure requirement change was made in relative secrecy, with no formal announcement.

The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings. [National Journal]

Lawmakers must still notify the House's Office of the Clerk when they've been treated to a free trip, so private companies can't quite wine and dine politicians completely off the books. Yet the change nonetheless allows lawmakers to take junkets in a more opaque fashion — right as such trips are becoming more and more common. Jon Terbush

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