Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin twice this month — and we just found out about the second meeting Tuesday evening.
It turns out that a few hours after the leaders’ much ballyhooed one-on-one meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, the two met again informally for about an hour — accompanied only by Putin’s translator.
Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer, who spoke with leaders in attendance at the meal, wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday that at the social “couples-only” G20 dinner, Trump got up from his seat to go talk to Putin, and the two proceeded to have what Bremmer described as an “animated and very friendly” conversation. The White House had not previously disclosed any such encounter between the two men.
Responding to Bremmer’s revelations, the White House said in its statement that the encounter was only a “brief conversation at the end of dinner,” not a second meeting, and that the reason Putin’s translator was used is that he spoke Russian whereas Trump’s translator did not.
Usually, head-of-state meetings are staged affairs, and the public — at least the media — knows it’s going to happen. For a meeting to take place and no one to know about it outside of the administration is rare. Worse, we’ll never really know what happened during their chat since only three people were there and nothing was recorded (that we know of).
The Trump administration was widely criticized for the first meeting between Trump and Putin, at which Trump appears to have accepted Putin’s denials of any election interference at face value — even though the entire US intelligence community believes the Kremlin mounted a sophisticated campaign to help him win the White House.
It’s startling that the president met again with Putin after that and never told the public — particularly given the growing scandal around Donald Trump Jr. attending a meeting billed as part of the Russian government’s attempts to help Trump win the election.
Many will want to know just what exactly Trump and Putin talked about without the public’s knowledge. Time will tell if the public actually gets to find out, but that’s unlikely since no one else in the administration knows for sure what was said. That could be a problem. After all, Trump shared highly classified intelligence in a meeting with top Russian officials in the Oval Office back in May.
That’s what the president does when some of his top national security officials are in the room with him. What might he say to Russia’s leader with no one else around? It’s doubtful we’ll ever know.