First the headlines:
New York Times: Trump and Putin Held a Second, Undisclosed, Private Conversation
The Washington Post: Trump had undisclosed hour-long meeting with Putin at G-20 summit
So what happened? Back to the New York Times:
Hours into a dinner with world leaders who had gathered for the Group of 20 summit meeting, President Trump left his chair at the sprawling banquet table and headed to where President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was seated.
The dinner discussion caught the attention of other leaders around the table, some of whom later remarked privately on the odd spectacle of an American president seeming to single out the Russian leader for special attention at a summit meeting that included some of the United States’ staunchest, oldest allies.
While the leaders-and-spouses dinner was on Mr. Trump’s public schedule, the news media was not allowed to witness any part of it, nor were reporters provided with an account of what transpired. Mr. Trump’s traveling press contingent did note, however, that his motorcade left the dinner four minutes after Mr. Putin’s did.
The dinner at which the private conversation took place stretched for more than three hours after a concert for the leaders and their spouses at the Elbphilharmonie, a concert hall on the banks of the Elbe River.
There is no official United States government record of the intimate dinner conversation, because no American official other than the president was involved.
“Pretty much everyone at the dinner thought this was really weird, that here is the president of the United States, who clearly wants to display that he has a better relationship personally with President Putin than any of us, or simply doesn’t care,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a New York-based research and consulting firm, who said he had heard directly from attendees. “They were flummoxed, they were confused and they were startled.”
The encounter occurred more than midway through the lengthy dinner, when Mr. Trump left his chair and approached Mr. Putin, who had been seated next to the first lady, Melania Trump. It was described to Mr. Bremmer by other guests as lasting roughly an hour and not initially disputed by a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
For the record, I don’t see Russia as an enemy. Period. It is not the USSR. It has a GDP that would be between New York and Florida if it were a state. Russia is an aggressive regional power and it is a bad actor and a strategic competitor in some areas. I don’t think Russia or any other nation on earth is our friend because nations do not have friends, they have interests. And it is in our interest to reach a modus vivendi with Russia where we are not, daily, risking shooting down their planes or them shooting down ours over the Baltic, the Black Sea, the Pacific, and Syria and where they steer away from meddling in the internal affairs of NATO countries, particularly those with large ethnic Russian minorities.
In my view, this meeting was hardly “undisclosed.” This is the venue:
The fact that the media didn’t know about it seems to be more of a reflection of their own lack of curiosity than anything else. If the statement attributed to Ian Bremmer is correct, there certainly doesn’t seem to be any omerta involved. From the readiness to dish, one really has to marvel that the story didn’t run on July 8. But if you are going to add to the mystery, who do we think is the woman in white seated beside Putin during the dinner?
You can argue the optics of Trump and Putin having a tête-à-tête with all the Russia related nonsense bubbling about him. You can argue that a US interpreter should have been there (the interpreter accompanying Trump spoke Japanese, and, in fairness, I don’t know how many interpreters a head of state would be expected to bring to a dinner such as this one. Putin having an English interpreter is pretty logical, a significant number of the G20 heads of state speak English as a first or second language.) You can argue that Trump was secretly giving Putin the nuclear launch codes (and I’m sure that argument will be made before the day is out). He may even have told Putin that shortly he will have more flexibility.
What you can’t argue is a) the meeting was undisclosed in the sense of being concealed as there are official photos of the event that show numerous photographers present, b) that the information was not available to reporters at the G20 had they asked, and c) that the president does not have the right and authority to talk to basically anyone he wishes without notifying the press, before or after, or bringing along a battalion of staffers.
As it turns out, the meeting was reported on at the time (h/t Newsbusters)
The US president began the meeting by asking Putin directly about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, US officials said. However, Putin denied Russia was responsible, and the two camps would appear to disagree on exactly what was said during the two-hour meeting.
BuzzFeed News understands that the two leaders engaged in another “long chat” right after a G20 dinner on Friday night, according to a source present.
First lady Melania Trump had been seated next to Putin at the dinner. Trump sat next to Juliana Awada, the first lady of Argentina.