By Karen DeYoung and Philip Rucker,
After his much-publicized, two-and a quarter-hour meeting early this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Germany, President Trump met informally with the Russian leader for an additional hour later the same day.
The second meeting, unreported at the time, took place at a dinner for G-20 leaders, a senior administration official said. Halfway through the meal, Trump left his own seat to occupy a chair next to Putin. Trump was alone, and Putin was attended only by his official interpreter.
The encounter underscores the extent to which Trump was eager throughout the summit to cultivate a friendship with Putin. During last year’s campaign, Trump spoke admiringly of Putin and at times seemed captivated by him.
Meeting each other face-to-face for the first time in Hamburg, the two presidents seemed to have a chemistry in their more formal bilateral session, evidenced by the fact that it dragged on for more than two hours.
But Trump’s newly-disclosed conversation with Putin at the G-20 dinner is likely to stoke further criticism, including perhaps from some fellow Republicans in Congress, that he is too cozy with the leader of a major U.S. adversary.
The only version of the conversation provided to White House aides was that given by Trump himself, the official said. Reporters traveling with the White House were not informed, and there was no formal readout of the chat.
The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm the session, first reported Monday by Ian Bremmer, president of the New York-based Eurasia Group, in a newsletter to group clients. Bremmer said in a telephone interview that he was told by two participants who witnessed it at the dinner, which was attended only by leaders attending the summit and some of their spouses.
Leaders who reported the meeting to him, Bremmer said, were “bemused, non-plussed , befuddled” by the animated conversation, held in full view — but not listening distance — of others present.
Putin’s aide provided the only Russian-English interpretation, the official said, because Trump’s designated dinner companion for the evening was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the president has brought only a Japanese-English interpreter.
The formal Putin-Trump meeting earlier in the day was attended only by the leaders and interpreters, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Scheduled for only 35 minutes, it ran well over the time scheduled for it.
But following official statements on what transpired, there was widespread confusion over whether Trump agreed, as Putin later said, to accept the Kremlin’s denial of any wrongdoing regarding interference in last years election.
Trump said he twice asked Putin if the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia had meddled in the race were true, and Putin twice denied it, so he moved on to other subjects of importance to the bilateral relationship, including Syria.
One senior European official whose head of government was at the meeting said that it was not unusual for leaders to circulate or “withdraw to a corner” in such private gatherings.
“Part of the rationale is the flurry of bilateral contacts that happen,” the official said. “I don’t find it a sensation,” he said of the lengthy dinner chat, although “maybe Trump and Putin are a little different” than other attendees.
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