WASHINGTON (Circa) -- Congressional calls for President Donald Trump's interpreter to testify on Capitol Hill regarding what she witnessed during a private meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin has many in the interpreter community worried about the integrity of the profession.
Several Republicans and even more Democrats believe that the lack of aides or deputies of any kind during the one-on-one meeting is deeply concerning given the ongoing Justice Department probe examining Russian election interference and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. It is quite unorthodox for a president to hold a meeting with a head of state without any aides, especially when it comes to adversaries, but some interpreters are worried that compelling one of their own to testify before a congressional committee could pose ethical and professional concerns.
"The whole interpreting community is outraged by this idea," said Stephanie van Reigersberg, the former chief of the interpreting division at the State Department's Office of Language Services, in an interview with Circa. "We compare ourselves to priests, or to doctors, or to anyone else with whom there is a vow of confidentiality."
She added that having Marina Goss, the interpreter who joined Trump during the meeting, testify would put her in an unfair situation professionally.
Interpreters who serve in diplomatic roles have a defined code of ethics by which they practice their profession. According to the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) Code of Professional Ethics article 2:
"Members of the association shall be bound by the strictest secrecy, which must be observed towards all persons and with regards to all information disclosed in the course of the practice of the profession at any gathering not open to the public."
The association reiterated this point on Thursday in a statement issued shortly after several legislators called for Marina Goss, who serve as Trump's interpreter in Helsinki, to possibly testify.
"If statesmen are to speak freely, they must be able to trust interpreters unreservedly not to reveal confidential information," said the statement. "Hence the importance of upholding the cardinal principle applied since [World War II], that interpreters should never be obliged to give testimony."
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Supporters of the idea argue that having Goss testify may be the only way to learn what was actually said. For some, the concern is compounded by the possibility of conflict of interest.
"[Trump] has a history of false statements and misleading the American people," said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who serves on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, in an interview with CNN. "The only way to find out what was said would be to hear from the interpreter."
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a known Trump critic who will be retiring at the end of his term, suggested Goss hand over her notes from the meeting. But that might not be such a good idea, according to van Reigersberg. An interpreter's notes are something that are developed over the course of a career, she explained, and it may be difficult to make sense of them days or perhaps weeks, after the fact.
"They're meant to be used immediately, and trying to reconstruct them and being able to swear when you've been subpoenaed that what you are saying is accurate is impossible," said van Reigersberg.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters on Thursday that having Goss testify could create a bad precedent.
"That will be the last time you ever have a foreign leader meet with the President of the United States privately, and I can tell you there may be times when we need to do that," said Graham. "So I can't imagine how that would affect future presidents in terms of their ability to talk to foreign leaders."
That said, it is quite unusual for a president to walk into a meeting with a foreign leader without aides or note-takers, especially when it comes to adversaries. Van Reigersberg said she certainly can understand these concerns, but that there may be some misconception in Congress as to what Goss could provide based on both a technical and ethical standpoint.