President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the annual G20 summit in Argentina last year accompanied only by First Lady Melania Trump. No translator, notetaker, or other staff members were present at the time on behalf of Trump, reports the Financial Times. Putin’s own translator was present for the discussion.
The revelation follows a number of reports of the president meeting with Putin in the absence of official support on the side of the United States. During the previous G20 meeting in 2017, in which Putin emphatically denied Russian meddling in the 2016 United States presidential election that would ultimately make Trump president, the pair also met under atypical circumstances, also without U.S. staffers or translators present.
Trump at the time downplayed the meeting, citing Israel among other topics as the subjects of discussion at the time.
“Anyone could have listened to that meeting,” he later told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. “That meeting is open for grabs.”
Several former U.S. officials have indicated that the relationship between Trump and Putin is unusual by the standards of pervious administrations. Typically translators are on hand to ensure accurate communication between leaders, and official notes inform administration staff of key points and takeaways from the meeting.
“[It] is not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state who was involved in a number of meetings between President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. “It handicaps the U.S. government — the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] — and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.”
The White House at the time objected to such a characterization, indicating that the president was working hard to “improve the relationship with Russia” following failed diplomacy during the Obama administration.
I believe Putin will continue to re-build the Russian Empire. He has zero respect for Obama or the U.S.!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2014
In his first two years in office, Trump has had numerous meetings with Putin, five of which yielded no official records or notes.
“US officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years,” the Washington Post reported. Trump has consistently and emphatically denied any impropriety in these or any other meetings with the Russian president, calling out the Washington Post in particular as “outrageously inaccurate.”
In any case, Trump’s relationship with Putin will remain under scrutiny as Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, including potential collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.