US President Donald Trump met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at a second, previously undisclosed chat during the G20 summit in Germany this month, the White House confirmed on Wednesday, raising new questions about their relationship.
After his much-publicised two-and-a-quarter-hour meeting on July 7 with Russian President Putin in Hamburg, President Trump chatted informally with the Russian leader for up to an additional hour later the same day, the Washington Post reported.
The second meeting, undisclosed at the time, took place at a dinner for G-20 leaders, a senior administration official said.
During the meal, Trump left his own seat to occupy a chair next to Putin. Trump approached alone, and Putin was attended only by his official interpreter, the report said.
In a statement issued on the night of Tuesday after the US media published reports of the second conversation, the White House said that “there was no ‘second meeting’ between President Trump and President Putin, just a “brief” conversation at the end of a dinner.
“The insinuation that the White House has tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting,” it said, “is false, malicious and absurd.”
“All the leaders” circulated around the room throughout the dinner, and “President Trump spoke with many leaders,” the statement said. “As the dinner was concluding,” it said, Trump spoke “briefly” with Putin, who was seated next to first lady Melania Trump.
“Each couple was allowed one translator. The American translator accompanying President Trump spoke Japanese. When President Trump spoke to President Putin, the two leaders used the Russian translator, since the American translator did not speak Russian,” the White House said.
The two leaders’ relationship is under intense scrutiny amid allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the US presidential polls.
US intelligence believe Russia helped Trump in last year’s presidential election, something denied by Moscow. Trump has rejected any collusion.
Trump also said that Putin was unlikely to have preferred him over Hillary Clinton as president, since his goals include taking international energy business away from Russia and building up the US military.
“The dinner encounter appeared to underscore the extent to which Trump was eager throughout the summit to cultivate a friendship with Putin. During last year’s election campaign, he spoke admiringly of the Russian leader and at times seemed captivated by him,” the Post noted.