White House, Kremlin defend Trump-Putin dinner chat

Expert: Trump-Putin chat "high risk"

WASHINGTON -- Cameras only briefly got a glimpse of world leaders and their spouses dining at the G-20 summit in Germany earlier this month. But that was long enough to see President Trump enter and gesture toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was seated next to first lady Melania Trump. 

The two leaders had just finished a meeting that lasted more than two hours, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said showed the "positive chemistry" between them. Russia's top diplomat also attended, along with official translators from both countries. 

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President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen seated at dinner during the G-20 summit on July 7, 2017. CBS News

But late on Tuesday, nearly two weeks later, the White House revealed that the conversation continued during dinner, with no cameras, advisers or a U.S. interpreter present. 

Mr. Trump instead relied on a Kremlin interpreter during the meeting, which was said to have lasted less than an hour.

On Wednesday, the White House and the Kremlin defended the chat between Mr. Trump and Putin. A Kremlin spokesman said the notion that meeting was "secret" is "absurd." In a tweet, Mr. Trump said the story of a "secret dinner" with Putin is "sick" and "Fake News." 

Other foreign leaders in the room wondered what the leaders of two adversarial countries were huddling about. 

During the campaign Mr. Trump said he alone could reset relations with Russia, which are at a Cold War-era low.

"I will get along, I think, with Putin," he said as a candidate.

"You've got to engage with him, but you have to be very careful," said Jeffrey Edmonds, a Russia expert who served in the Trump and Obama administrations. "I'm not sure that his staff is being allowed to serve him well."

Second Trump-Putin discussion draws scrutiny

Edmonds said the tension between the two countries is exactly what made the dinner conversation high risk.

"When there isn't an expert in the room or he hasn't received a pre-brief before a meeting with Putin, I think there's a danger he could fall into some kind of trap, especially with an operative like Putin," Edmonds said of the Russian president, a former Soviet intelligence officer. "He's just very skilled."

The White House pointed out that President Obama huddled with Putin and the same Kremlin translator in 2016.

But Mr. Obama was joined by national security adviser Susan Rice in his conversation. No U.S. official was present for Mr. Trump's chat.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Margaret Brennan is moderator of CBS News' "Face The Nation" and CBS News' senior foreign affairs correspondent based in Washington, D.C.