The White House keeps insisting that an unannounced discussion between President Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia during the recent Group of 20 meeting in Germany is nothing peculiar. In fact, history shows that it is rare for American presidents to meet other leaders, especially adversaries, one-on-one, with little evident preparation and no other American representative present. Mr. Trump’s unique affinity for Mr. Putin is, of course, an additional reason to be concerned.
The encounter occurred July 7 on the sidelines of a banquet attended by the G-20 leaders and their spouses. The president left his chair and walked over to speak with Mr. Putin. Mr. Trump said the conversation lasted 15 minutes, but other reports suggest itmay have been as long as an hour.
.. Although the formal meeting was announced in advance, the later encounter was confirmed by the White House only after reports surfaced about the astonishment of some of the other guests.
.. For one thing, Mr. Trump initiated the conversation without the benefit of his own interpreter or the participation of any of his national security advisers. Only Mr. Putin’s interpreter was on hand. That gives the Russians an advantage: They could assert that Mr. Trump agreed to something or said something that he did not.
.. According to The Associated Press, Mr. Trump ignored the warnings of aides like his national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, that Mr. Putin cannot be trusted and that bilateral meetings should be avoided. It may be that Mr. Trump simply acted on impulse.
.. The stories about what was discussed keep changing. Mr. Spicer told reporters the dinner discussion involved “pleasantries and small talk.” Mr. Trump told The Times the two men discussed “Russian adoptions,” a reference to Mr. Putin’s 2012 decision to suspend American adoptions of Russian orphans. Mr. Putin took that step in response to American sanctions; did the idea of lifting sanctions come up, too?
.. If one were confident that Mr. Trump, like most presidents, possessed a basic knowledge of world events and an ethical compass, his meetings with Mr. Putin would not necessarily cause alarm.
.. he has so undermined public trust that Americans would be right to wonder whether he is doing so with their best interests at heart.