President Donald Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a second, previously undisclosed meeting at the G20 summit this month for about one hour, according to several reports Tuesday evening. The White House issued a statement soon after news of the conversation surfaced, saying that “there was no ‘second meeting’ … just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner,” while dismissing the “insinuation” that the White House had been trying to hide the meeting as “false, malicious and absurd.”
The only version of what the two men discussed was provided to White House aides by Trump himself.
The second “meeting” took place during an intimate dinner for G20 leaders and their spouses, according to a senior administration official, when Trump left his seat at the table and moved to a chair next to Putin. Only Trump, Putin and his translator were involved in their private conversation.
According to the seating arrangement, world leaders were seated apart from their spouses during dinner. Melania Trump, who speaks several languages including Russian, shared dinner with Putin.
The talks were first reported by the president of the New York-based Eurasia Group, Ian Bremmer, in a newsletter to clients in which he mentioned that the two men had talked “privately and animatedly” and that the lack of an official US translator had caught the attention of others at the dinner, including some of the United States’ staunchest allies.
The president was quick to deride the press for thinking dirty thoughts.
Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is "sick." All G 20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2017
As The Washington Post correctly noted late Tuesday night, however, the press did not know about the meeting until Tuesday evening, when the White House finally confirmed that the two men had met again during dinner in Hamburg. In fact, reporters who were traveling with the White House were not informed about the meeting beforehand, and no “formal” transcript of their conversation was ever recorded or released afterward.
“Pretty much everyone at the dinner thought this was really weird, that here is the president of the United States, who clearly wants to display that he has a better relationship personally with President Putin than any of us, or simply doesn’t care,” Bremmer said after hearing directly from attendees. “They were flummoxed, they were confused and they were startled.”
The hour-long dinner chat occurred just hours after a longer-than-expected two-hour formal meeting between the two earlier in the day — which was also attended by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The news of this initially undisclosed second meeting comes just one week after the revelation that the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had secretly met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016 to get compromising information on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, even after being told that the information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Russia’s interference during the 2016 election, in addition to allegations that members of Trump’s campaign may have colluded with the Kremlin in an effort to swing the race in Trump’s favor are, of course, the subject of investigations in both the House and Senate and a wide-ranging investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III.
– Danielle Bizzarro