President Trump, who once hoped President Vladimir Putin would be his “new best friend,” had a formerly secret meeting with the Russian leader during the G20 summit earlier this month in Hamburg, Germany.
The New York Times confirmed with the White House that there was a second meeting between both leaders; however, the official statement declined to describe it as a “second meeting.” Trump and Putin’s meeting took place over dinner after their official meeting the same day.
While the White House acknowledged the second meeting, it didn’t comment on what was discussed. The dinner is bizarre for numerous reasons, not least of which being that it was previously undisclosed. Perhaps most strange, as The Washington Post noted, Trump left his seat abruptly to sit next to Putin during the summit’s dinner…and didn’t bring an interpreter. Meaning, only a Kremlin interpreter translated their reportedly hour-long exchange.
Ian Bremmer, president of the political consultancy firm Eurasia Group, first reported witnessing the meeting in a memo to his clients. According to Reuters, Bremmer described Trump’s lack of an interpreter as a “breach of national security protocol.”
Other world leaders were perplexed by Trump’s unanticipated seat change (although, he only had to trade places with Melania, who was seated next to Putin during the dinner). Trump was originally seated between the Prime Minister of Japan’s wife, Akie Abe, and the President of Argentina’s wife, Juliana Awada.
The Times reported on Bremmer’s analysis of the meeting:
“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,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a New York-based research and consulting firm, who said he heard directly from attendees. “They were flummoxed, they were confused and they were startled.”
In a statement regarding the meeting, the White House said the exchange was a “perfectly normal” thing for a president to do. The statement also explained Trump’s missing translator. “The American translator accompanying President Trump spoke Japanese,” the White House said. “When President Trump spoke to President Putin, the two leaders used the Russian translator, since the American translator did not speak Russian.”
I guess the previously undisclosed meeting would be “perfectly normal” if there wasn’t an ongoing federal investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials to potentially sway the election.