Interpreters also serve an essential role as record-keepers, taking notes that end up in the National Archives, Obst said. Of course, interpreters are not always asked to take notes. It’s unclear who the U.S. interpreter in Friday’s meeting was and whether he or she took notes, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment. While such a record would not immediately become public, it does create an account for posterity. Within an hour after the Putin-Trump meeting, differing accounts had already begun to emerge about what the two men discussed.

One reason the Putin-Trump meeting was limited to such a small group was that the Trump team was reportedly concerned about the possibility for leaks, which have bedeviled this administration more than perhaps any other. The idea of limiting meeting sizes in order to control information tightly is not entirely new. Obst recalls that Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who distrusted the State Department and had a rocky relationship with Secretary William Rogers, sometimes kept U.S. interpreters out of meetings, for fear that they would brief Rogers on what had been discussed. (This also meant that Obst sometimes found himself assisting Rogers in conversations with foreign leaders on topics about which the White House had kept him in the dark.)

But Obst said the Trump administration need not worry that the linguist will speak out about what occurred between Trump and Putin. “Our top interpreters will never reveal anything to anyone to anybody who was not a participant,” Obst says. If so, he or she might be the only staffer who isn’t leaking.