WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump had a second, previously undisclosed conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Germany earlier this month.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer and National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton confirmed that Trump and Putin spoke privately at a dinner for world leaders and their spouses at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
The conversation came hours after their first official meeting on July 7, which was originally scheduled to last just half an hour, but stretched on for more than two.
Trump and Putin were also captured on video shaking hands and exchanging a few words after they arrived at the G-20 summit of industrialized and developing nations.
The official stressed that Trump spoke with many leaders over the course of the dinner and said he spoke briefly with Putin, who was seated next to first lady Melania Trump, as the event was concluding. Trump spoke with Putin using Russia’s translator, since the American translator did not speak Russian.
“The insinuation that the White House has tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd,” The White House said in a statement.
“It is not merely perfectly normal, it is part of a President’s duties, to interact with world leaders,” the statement continued. “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 White House declined to comment on what was discussed during the conversation because no staff was present.
Anton would not specify the duration of the meeting. But he said the discussion was casual and should not be characterized as a “meeting” or even a less formal, but official, “pull-aside.”
“A conversation over dessert should not be characterized as a meeting,” he said.
A few leaders had their translators with them, but no other delegates attended the dinner, he said.
Trump and Putin’s relationship has been under scrutiny since the election campaign, when Trump repeatedly praised the Russian as a strong leader and publicly encouraged him to hack then-rival Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump aides have since said he was joking.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election in order to help Trump. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on their findings and dismissed investigations into potential collusion between his campaign and Moscow as a “witch hunt.”
Ian Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group, said in a Monday appearance on Charlie Rose that the conversation between Putin and Trump was longer — about an hour. He drew parallels between the Trump-Putin encounter and the conversations between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 presidential campaign — both were in group, rather than one-on-one, settings, and were not immediately disclosed. Sessions later recused himself from involvement in the ongoing investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump’s campaign after outcry about his failure to disclose those discussions.
“We clearly know that Trump does not care what the media has to say about the desire to have a close personal relationship with the Russian president and what drives it,” Bremmer told Rose on Monday. “Never in my life as a political scientist have I seen two major countries with a constellation of national interests that are [this] dissonante, while the two leaders seem to be doing everything possible to make ‘nice-nice’ and be close with each other. That’s what people don’t understand.”
From an objective read, the relationship between the two countries is the worst it’s been in recent memory, Bremmer says.
“You put all those things together, they don’t add up to where Trump is with Putin right now,” Bremmer says.