Trump, Putin had previously undisclosed visit at G-20 dinner
WASHINGTON – ReutersU.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a previously undisclosed conversation during a dinner for G-20 leaders at a summit earlier this month in Germany, a White House official said on July 18.
The two leaders held a formal two-hour bilateral meeting on July 7 in which Trump later said Putin denied allegations that he directed efforts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Trump’s interactions with the Russian leader were scrutinized closely because of those allegations, which have dominated his first six months in the White House, and Trump’s comments as a presidential candidate praising the former KGB spy.
Trump and Putin first met at the G-20 during a gathering of other leaders, which was shown in a video. They later held the bilateral meeting, which was attended briefly by a pool of reporters.
In the evening, both men attended a dinner with G-20 leaders. Putin was seated next to U.S. first lady Melania Trump. The U.S. president went over to them at the conclusion of the dinner and visited with Putin, the official said. That conversation had not been previously disclosed.
“There was no ‘second meeting’ between President Trump and President Putin, just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner. The insinuation that the White House has tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd,” the official said.
In a tweet late on July 18, Trump said: “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!”
News of the conversation, first reported by Ian Bremmer, the president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, could raise renewed concern as Congress and a special counsel investigate allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered to help Trump, a Republican, win the presidency.
Trump says there was no collusion and Russia denies interference in the election.
Bremmer said Trump got up from his seat halfway through dinner and spent about an hour talking “privately and animatedly” with Putin, “joined only by Putin’s own translator.”
The lack of a U.S. translator raised eyebrows among other leaders at the dinner, said Bremmer, who called it a “breach of national security protocol.”
The White House official said the leaders and their spouses were only permitted to have one translator attend the dinner. Trump sat next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife. His translator spoke Japanese.
“When President Trump spoke to President Putin, the two leaders used the Russian translator, since the American translator did not speak Russian,” the official said.
A U.S. official who was briefed by some of his counterparts about the encounter said some of the leaders who attended the dinner were surprised to see Trump leave his seat and engage Putin in an extended private conversation with no one else from the U.S. side present.
“No one is sure what their discussion was about, and whether it was purely social or touched on bilateral or international issues,” the official said.
As part of the investigations into allegations of Moscow’s meddling, a congressional panel said on July 19 it wanted to interview Trump’s eldest son, his former campaign chairman and all others who were at a June 2016 meeting with Russian nationals.
The meeting in Trump Tower in New York has grabbed the spotlight in the saga of possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign as media reports of more participants than originally known have emerged.
Donald Trump Jr., who runs the Trump Organization family business, released emails last week in which he eagerly agreed to meet a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow’s official support for his father’s campaign.
“Any intelligence out there that suggests that somebody is of interest to us, we have to pursue it,” the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Senator Richard Burr, told reporters.
On July 10, Trump Jr. posted on Twitter: “Happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know.”