A lawsuit has been filed against US President Donald Trump and his son in law, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, alleging their failure to keep records of meetings with foreign government officials, including some from Saudi Arabia.
The lawsuit was filed yesterday in a District of Columbia Court by three different institutions including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). On its website, the group describes itself as a non-profit organisation of lawyers seeking to "reduce the influence of money in politics and help foster a government that is ethical and accountable."
Details of numerous instances where Trump and Kushner are said to have broken the law have been cited, including five meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Note takers were also absent during Kushner's meetings with top Saudi officials. The lawsuit describes Kushner as having several meetings recently in Riyadh that "excluded State Department officials, thereby avoiding the creation of a record of his conversations."
According to CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder, "It is clear that President Trump and White House officials have gone to great lengths to hold high-level meetings with foreign governments and carry out foreign policy objectives while blatantly ignoring recordkeeping laws and preventing national security officials and the American people from understanding what they are doing."
He added that the absence of records in these circumstances causes "real, incalculable harm" to America's national security and poses a direct threat to transparency for the American public. "We're asking the court to compel White House officials to make and maintain these important records that let the public know what the government is up to and provide a safeguard to our history."
Barbara Keys is the President of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, which is also taking legal action against Trump and Kushner. "Keeping records of top-level meetings has been part of common-sense diplomatic practice for centuries," she pointed out. "Failing to make or keep records damages not only the capacity of history to render judgment in the future, but also of government to pursue the country's interests in the present." Keys warned that the failure to keep records "undermines the principle of government accountability that is the very bedrock of democracy."
The lawsuit seen by MEMO stated that Kushner, who has been charged by Trump "with bringing peace to the Middle East, recently met in Saudi Arabia with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman." According to a White House statement, the three are said to have discussed "the peace efforts, as well as American-Saudi cooperation and plans to improve conditions in the region through investment."
The legal documents also noted that US embassy staff in Riyadh "were not read in on the details of Jared Kushner's trip… or the meetings he held with members of the country's Royal Court[.]" They also revealed that the only State Department official who was allowed to attend the meeting was an Iran specialist and that the US embassy "was largely left in the dark on the details of Kushner's schedule and his conversations with Saudi officials."
The concerns of Eliot L Engel, chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, were included in the 39-page lawsuit. The Republican member of Congress is reported to have raised the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter on 28 March this year, in which he expressed his concern with the sidelining of Embassy personnel during the planning and conduct of Kushner's Middle East meetings.