In his latest attack on the media, President Donald Trump gave a misleading account of news reports regarding a previously undisclosed second conversation that he had had with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit.
The New York Times reported on July 18 — more than a week after the G-20 summit in Germany — that Trump and Putin had a “second, undisclosed, private conversation” at a dinner held for the G-20 leaders and their spouses on July 7. The Washington Post, too, reported that the “second meeting, undisclosed at the time, took place at a dinner for G-20 leaders.”
In a statement released on the evening of July 18, the White House confirmed that the two leaders talked at the July 7 dinner with the aid of a Russian interpreter, as the Times and Post reported. This second conversation took place only hours after the two leaders had met earlier that day in a highly anticipated and well-publicized meeting.
But Trump dismissed the reports of the second conversation as a “fake news story of secret dinner with Putin,” claiming the “press knew!” That’s misleading.
Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is "sick." All G 20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2017
The media — the Times, Post, CNN and other major media outlets — did not describe the event as a “secret dinner.” They accurately described it, as the Times did, as a “private conversation” that took place at a “leaders-and-spouses dinner.”
And while the media knew about the dinner, which was on the public schedule, reporters did not witness the two leaders talking because the dinner was off-limits to the press.
The president’s official schedule for July 7 included a 9:45 a.m. EST meeting with Putin that lasted more than two hours and was widely covered by the media. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended that meeting and discussed it with the media that same day after it ended.
The president’s schedule that day also included a 1 p.m. EST concert at the Elbphilharmonie followed by a “social dinner” at 2:15 p.m. EST. It was at the dinner that Trump and Putin spoke for a second time.
At the time, there was no official White House acknowledgement or read out of the second conversation between the two leaders. The only media mention of it that we could find was a single sentence in a July 8 BuzzFeed article about the other G-20 countries reaffirming their support for the Paris agreement. “BuzzFeed News understands that the two leaders engaged in another ‘long chat’ right after a G20 dinner on Friday night, according to a source present,” the website wrote. It wasn’t until July 18 that the White House confirmed that the conversation took place and only after Bremmer’s report was widely picked up by the media.
While the White House does not dispute that the two leaders spoke at the dinner, there is a disagreement over the length of the conversation.
Bremmer has said, based on his interviews with those present at the dinner, that the Trump-Putin private conversation lasted “roughly an hour.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the conversation was brief and nothing more than “pleasantries and small talk” were exchanged.
As for what the press knew about the second Trump-Putin conversation, the fact is that the dinner was closed to the media — so Trump’s claim that the “press knew!” is puzzling. We asked the White House what the president meant, but we received no response.
The media relies on White House pool reports at such events. The print reporter assigned to pool duty that day was Washington Post reporter Abby Phillips, who filed pool reports that were distributed to the media. Phillips filed a pool report that evening that said she was in a “hold location” during the concert and dinner. The next pool report she filed was after the dinner. She wrote, “We haven’t seen POTUS in many hours but he has reached his temporary home in Hamburg.”
It’s no secret that Trump is frustrated by the media coverage of the ongoing federal investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and whether there was any coordination between the Russians and his campaign. He frequently attacks major media outlets as “fake news.” But the president cannot dismiss legitimate news stories, as he is doing here, by twisting the facts.