In the summer of 2017, Americans first learned of a secret meeting between Russian operatives and top members of Donald Trump's campaign team. The discussion -- held in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 -- was intended to help the Republican obtain information from Moscow to help put Trump in the White House.
Soon after the story broke, Donald Trump Jr. -- a participant in the meeting -- issued a highly misleading press statement about what transpired. We later learned that the president personally dictated that statement while aboard Air Force One, during a return trip from a G-20 summit in Germany. This appeared to directly implicate the president in a cover-up.
But in an interesting twist, that apparently wasn't the only notable thing that happened on Trump's return flight from Germany on July 8, 2017.
The New York Times reported today on each of the meetings the American president has had with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- discussions even U.S. officials know little about -- including their interactions at that G-20 gathering. The article included this tidbit:
Mr. Trump sought out Mr. Putin again during a dinner for all the leaders. Videotape later made public showed Mr. Trump pointing at Mr. Putin, who was seated across and down a long table, then pointing at himself and then making a pumping motion with his fist.Mr. Trump later told The Times that he went over to see his wife, Melania Trump, who was sitting next to Mr. Putin, and the two leaders then talked, with Mr. Putin's interpreter translating. No American officials were present, and the White House did not confirm the encounter until more than 10 days later, after it was independently reported.The day after the two meetings, as Mr. Trump was on Air Force One taking off from Germany heading back to Washington, he telephoned a Times reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference.
I think it's safe to say this doesn't look great for the White House.
For those unfamiliar with media interactions, as a rule, reporters call officials far more than officials call reporters. Journalists seek out comment from those in positions of authority every day, but it's less common for leaders to call a reporter unprompted, just to share a point he or she considers important.
In this case, however, Trump, after a couple of private chats with the Russian president, decided to call a New York Times reporter in order to endorse Putin's denial about election interference, despite the findings of Trump's own intelligence officials.
The Republican made the call from Air Force One -- on the exact same flight on which Trump dictated a deceptive statement about the 2016 meeting in which top members of his team sought Russia's campaign assistance.
The White House will very likely say this is all benign and unimportant. I'm less sure why anyone would believe this.
Postscript: If you missed Rachel's segment last night on why Trump's efforts to conceal his conversations with Putin are "like blackmail in a bottle," it's well worth your time.