U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a press conference after the meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

Another reported off-the-books meeting between Trump and Putin jolts debate


The Rachel Maddow Show, 1/29/19, 9:27 PM ET

Trump had another 'off the books' meeting with Putin at G20: FT

Rachel Maddow relays a report by the Financial Times that Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November. While Putin was accompanied by an interpreter, Donald Trump only brought his wife, Melania.
It was just two weeks ago that we learned about the “extraordinary lengths” Donald Trump has gone to conceal the details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Washington Post  reported that the Republican has established a pattern of not only shielding his communications with Putin, but also “preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.”

In one instance, the American leader went so far as to take his own interpreter’s notes after a conversation with Putin.

It’s against this backdrop that the Financial Times published this report yesterday.

Donald Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin for several minutes of conversation at the end of an evening event at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November, with no translator or note-taker from the US side to record the dialogue between the leaders, according to people who had direct knowledge of the encounter or were briefed on it.

The discussions between the US and Russian presidents occurred at the 19th-century Colón theatre in the Argentine capital, as world leaders and their spouses or guests were streaming out of the building.

Mr Trump was accompanied by Melania Trump, his wife, but no staff, while Mr Putin was flanked by his translator. The four of them sat at a table and were among the last to leave.

Keep in mind, this international gathering in Argentina got underway just two months ago. Americans were initially told Trump and Putin would not meet at the summit, but it now appears this off-the-books conversation occurred.

Perhaps the two words that stood out most in the Financial Times’ reporting were “no staff.”

Trump could’ve made sure there was, at a minimum, a U.S. translator on hand during his conversation with Putin, but he didn’t. Instead, the American president held the meeting in such a way that there was no official record of the interaction, and no way to convey to other U.S. officials what transpired.

Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state now, who participated in more than a dozen meetings between President Bill Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, told the Washington Post two weeks ago, in reference to Trump’s secrecy surrounding Putin, that the recent dynamic “is not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous.”

Talbott added, “It handicaps the U.S. government – the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] – and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.”

Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser in the Obama White House, told Rachel last night that Trump’s approach is “terrifying.”

Rhodes added, “A lot of times when we were in government, President Obama would have to go into what we call a one-on-one meeting with President Putin. But by one-on-one, we’d always have somebody in the room, usually the national security adviser. That person was there to be able to read out to the other officials in the government what took place, what was discussed in that meeting.

“The fact that Donald Trump wants nobody else in these meetings, wants no record of these meetings, even from the translator, suggested that those discussions are of no use to the U.S. government. They’re of use to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. So that raises the question what are they discussing.”

Donald Trump, Russia and Vladimir Putin

Another reported off-the-books meeting between Trump and Putin jolts debate