Much was made of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany earlier this month. But that wasn’t their only face time that day.
Trump and Putin had a second, undisclosed meeting during a dinner later that evening, Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, revealed on Tuesday. The only other person in attendance was Putin’s translator.
A senior administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed the meeting to the Washington Post. “The only version of the conversation provided to White House aides was that given by Trump himself, the official said. Reporters traveling with the White House were not informed, and there was no formal readout of the chat,” the Post reported.
I was pooler that night. Putin's motorcade left the dinner at 11:50 pm. Trump's at 11:54 pm. They were among the last two leaders to depart. https://t.co/kF74QVzn8W
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) July 18, 2017
While details were sparse regarding what was discussed during Trump and Putin’s first meeting — which lasted over two hours and was attended by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — Putin claimed he denied Russian interference in last year’s presidential election and that Trump accepted his denial. Trump did not challenge that account.
“Never in my life as a political scientist have I seen two countries, major countries, with a constellation of national interests that are as dissonant while the two leaders seem to be doing everything possible to make nice-nice and be close to each other,” Bremmer told Charlie Rose.
Bremmer said he found out about the second, previously unreported meeting between Trump and Putin from other attendees of the dinner. “They were flummoxed, they were confused, and they were startled,” he told the New York Times.
The lack of transparency around the second meeting only adds to the growing suspicion regarding whether members of Trump’s inner circle colluded with the Russian government to manipulate the outcome of the election. As Tom Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted on Twitter, without another U.S. official present, questions are immediately raised about whether Trump was manipulated or said something “out of school,” or might have made a secret deal. “All in all this is a huge problem and may be the worst thing he has done so far,” Wright concluded.
If Trump did say something “out of school,” it wouldn’t be the first time he had done so while meeting privately with a top Russian official. In May, while speaking to the Russian foreign minister and another Russian diplomat in the Oval Office, he disclosed classified Israeli intelligence and bragged that he had successfully squashed an FBI investigation into his campaign’s alleged links with the Kremlin. The investigation is, in fact, still ongoing.
People close to the Trump administration seem to have a habit of conducting undisclosed conversations with representatives of the Russian government — including not only the president himself, but his former national security adviser, his attorney general, and his own son.