Washington, July 19: US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke for a second time on July 7 in a previously undisclosed discussion during the G-20 summit in Germany, the White House has confirmed.
A senior White House official told CNN on Tuesday that the discussion lasted nearly an hour.
The White House in a statement disputed characterising the discussion as a “second meeting”, and instead called it a “brief conversation”. It said Trump spoke with Putin through a Russian translator. National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said no other staff were present for the discussion.
The second discussion between the two leaders, undisclosed at the time, took place at a dinner for G-20 leaders, a senior administration official told the Washington Post. At some point during the meal, Trump left his own seat to occupy a chair next to Putin, said the report.
“All the leaders circulated around the room throughout the dinner and President Trump spoke with many leaders,” the White House statement said. “As the dinner was concluding,” it said, Trump spoke “briefly” with Putin, who was seated next to First Lady Melania Trump.
“The insinuation that the White House had tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd,” the statement said. The discussion came after their scheduled, two-hour-long bilateral meeting earlier that day.
Trump responded to reports of the meeting on Twitter. “Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is sick”.
“All G20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!” Trump tweeted, following it up with another, saying: “The Fake News is becoming more and more dishonest! Even a dinner arranged for top 20 leaders in Germany is made to look sinister!”
News of the discussion, however, was not that Trump had attended the dinner, but that he had an undisclosed and one-on-one discussion with Putin during the dinner, reported CNN.
Putin’s official interpreter provided the only Russian-English interpretation, the White House statement said, because the President was seated next to the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Each couple was allowed one translator,” it said.
John Kirby, who was a spokesman for the State Department during the Barack Obama administration, said the lack of a US translator or other support meant the US would be without a scrupulous translation or a record of what was discussed.
Democratic Delaware Senator Chris Coons said Trump didn’t bring a US translator and relied on Putin’s, which the senator called a “basic failure in terms of national security protocol”.