I don’t know. Can we? Have a look at the photo posted by CNN of Melania Trump seated next to Putin at the G20 dinner for world leaders, two seats away from Angela Merkel. Trump reportedly took Melania’s place at some point as the dinner wore on. If Trump was going to sell out Europe and NATO to the Russian bear, he’d probably find a more discreet way to do it than by chatting with the President of Russia right in front of the Chancellor of Germany. A private hourlong meeting between Trump and Putin with only Putin’s translator in attendance would be suspicious. A public meeting during a major dinner seems less so.
The dinner conversation with Putin was first reported Monday by Ian Bremmer, president of the New York-based Eurasia Group, in a newsletter to group clients. Bremmer said the meeting began “halfway” into the meal and lasted “roughly an hour.”…
Trump, who is among the newest world leaders in the G-20, remained at the dinner for the entire night. He was among the last to leave — after the host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, had already departed. Pool reporters with the president saw Putin’s motorcade leave at 11:50 p.m., followed shortly by Trump, who departed the concert hall at 11:54 p.m.
Leaders who witnessed the meeting were “bemused, nonplussed, befuddled” by the animated conversation, held in full view — but apparently not within listening distance — of others present, Bremmer said by telephone. He said he spoke with two participants at the dinner.
Is Bremmer the only source for the length of the conversation?
Another question: Is it unusual for the president to be unattended by a national security officer at a dinner like this? When the news first broke last night that Trump and Putin had chatted privately, with no other Americans around, it sounded like a breach of protocol. Why would Trump want to chat with the leader of Russia without any witnesses from his own side to the conversation? The White House, though, claims that there were no staff for any of the world leaders at the dinner. It was just them, their spouses, and a translator — and since Trump was seated near Shinzo Abe, he had a translator with him who spoke Japanese, not Russian. If he was intent on chatting with Putin, he was stuck using Putin’s translator. (Or, of course, he could have insisted on a translator who spoke Japanese and Russian before the dinner began, expecting that he’d want to chat with Putin at some point.)
The hardest punch you can land on him here based on what we know now, I think, is that it was a bad idea for him to seek Putin out for a chat even in a crowded room, both due to the optics amid the Russiagate investigation and the fact that he should want experienced American foreign policy hands around him to help him negotiate the conversation. (“What kind of information was President Putin conveying as fact to our president and potentially misleading him?”) But that just brings you back to the evergreen question about Trump’s interest in Putin: Is it nefarious/collusive or just tone-deaf and dunderheaded? Or, er, a little of both?
At worst, [Capitol Hill Republicans] seemed to believe Team Trump’s collusion amounted to a “conspiracy of dunces” (as a recent Ross Douthat column termed it)—embarrassing and unseemly, sure, but certainly not so grave as to demand blowing up the entire GOP agenda to address it.
“I think most of us agree that if something did happen, it wasn’t anything malicious … it’s just chalked up to [Trump and his advisers] not being very smart,” one senior Senate aide told me. “When people are pointing to Carter Page as someone who colluded, I don’t have any problem believing that… There are so many people who associate themselves with campaigns that are clowns.” Even the meeting Donald Trump Jr. orchestrated with a Kremlin-linked lawyer was seen as evidence of bumbling ineptitude more than high crimes and misdemeanors.
Two clips here, one of Scarborough and the other of Corey Lewandowski spinning the Trump/Putin chat in his own inimitable way.
Update: A source confirms to BuzzFeed that Trump and Putin did in fact speak for about an hour, and that that was the most unusual thing about the incident. World leaders making small talk is par for the course at events like this. Extended conversations are not.
What caught other leaders’ attention when Trump walked over to Putin towards the end of the evening was not that the conversation was happening — but how long it lasted. A source present on the night told BuzzFeed News the two chatted for a “long time”, emphasizing the point – “long” – several times in an exchange of messages.
Watch This Entire Clip Immediately pic.twitter.com/zIy9kHdv1q
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) July 19, 2017