In July of 2018, just after a NATO conference at which the president reportedly considered leaving the historic defense pact, Trump met with Vladimir Putin for a two-hour private conversation where the only other American in the room was a career translator ethically barred from sharing the contents of the one-on-one talk. As if that didn’t raise more concerns about a president haunted by an investigation into possible Russian influence over his campaign, it emerged on Tuesday that Trump had a second private meeting with the Russian president in 2018.
According to the Financial Times, President Trump spoke with Putin for “several minutes” after an event at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November, with no American translator or aide at hand to take notes on the chat — though a Russian translator was by Putin’s side, and Melania Trump sat with the president. According to a Russian government official, the two leaders spoke for 15 minutes, discussing foreign policy options, including Syria and the Azov Sea incident, in which Russian forces fired on three Ukrainian navy vessels in November. The White House declined to acknowledge any detail from the meeting, other than the fact that it happened.
The details of Trump’s November 2018 meeting with Putin came to light weeks after the Washington Post reported that the president confiscated the notes from his translator after a 2017 meeting with Putin in Hamburg, and reportedly told the interpreter not to discuss what had been said with administration officials. Also in January was the contentious BuzzFeed report that claimed Trump had engaged in talks to build a tower in Moscow through June 2016, and that the president had instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the matter.
Considering the overwhelming amount of evidence the Mueller investigation has already sifted through, one would think that Trump would consider the optics of having private meetings with the foreign agent that he allegedly colluded with during the 2016 campaign. And yet, at the November 2018 meeting, the star-crossed presidents reportedly discussed when they could meet again.