——President Trump held a second, previously unacknowledged conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin at this month’s G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, the White House confirmed Tuesday.
The discussion, near the conclusion of a formal dinner for leaders and their spouses at the summit and hours after the pair’s more than two-hour sit down on July 7, was only disclosed by the White House after TIME columnist Ian Bremmer reported of its existence.
U.S. officials would not specify the length of the conversation, initially reported Tuesday to have lasted nearly an hour, but described it as “casual” based on Trump’s recollection. No other U.S. officials were present for the conversation, which used the services of a Russian government interpreter, the White House said.
“There was no ‘second meeting’ between President Trump and President Putin, just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner,” a White House official said in a statement Tuesday evening. “The insinuation that the White House has tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd.”
White House officials said Trump also talked to German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the dinner, and they believe he also interacted with French President Emmanuel Macron and other leaders. Such conversations are perfectly normal for these highly scrutinized summits, but even informal conversations are often read-out to the press, in part to avoid the disclosure situation the Trump Administration now finds itself in.
The summit featured the first, intensely-scrutinized meeting of Trump and Putin, beginning with a public handshake followed by a two hour and sixteen minute bilateral meeting.
With questions still swirling about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump, who has repeatedly called the federal probe of Russian interference a “witch hunt,” faced pressure to hold Putin to account on his destabilizing efforts both in the U.S. and around the world. U.S. and Russian officials offered widely varied accounts of the meeting, with Russian officials initially saying that Trump had accepted Putin’s denials of Russian involvement in the hacking efforts, despite the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Trump and his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, also providing differing read-outs, with Trump initially denying that sanctions were a topic of discussion. No American record of the after-dinner conversation exists, with officials spending part of Tuesday afternoon probing Trump’s memory of the meeting to respond to media questions.
“It is not merely perfectly normal, it is part of a President’s duties, to interact with world leaders,” the White House statement said. ” Throughout the G20 and in all his other foreign engagements, President Trump has demonstrated American leadership by representing our interests and values on the world stage.”
The only U.S. officials present other than the President and First Lady was an English-to-Japanese interpreter, who was selected because President Trump was seated next to Akie Abe, the wife of the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Mrs. Trump was seated next to Putin.
Trump lingered for more than an hour after the dinner was scheduled to conclude and departed the dinner venue about four minutes after Putin’s motorcade. Photographers were granted only brief access at the beginning of the dinner, and reporters were not allowed to witness any of the interactions.
In a series of tweets Tuesday evening, Trump pushed back at the reports. “Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is “sick,” Trump tweeted. All G 20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!”
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