President Trump told reporters it’s “none of your business” what he speaks to Vladimir Putin about — but holding the Russian President to account for election interference is not on the agenda.
Instead, at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan on Friday morning, merely Trump wagged a finger at Putin. Literally.
When asked by a reporter if he would be addressing possible interference in the 2020 election, Trump said “Yes, of course, I will” — a response that elicited a chuckle from Putin.
Trump then jokingly told Putin: “Don’t meddle in our election, please,” repeating the same words seconds later, this time with the addition of a wagging finger.
The pair then shared a joke about a problem they both believe they have: the media.
“Get rid of them,” Trump said to his aides about the reporters in the room. “Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do.”
Putin responded, in English: “We also have. It’s the same.”
Russia habitually detains and jails journalists viewed as critical of the Kremlin. Since 1992, 58 journalists have been killed in Russia, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Trump and Putin were speaking at a briefing with reporters before meeting in private. Trump said it was “a great honor” to meet Putin, and that he was looking forward to spending “some very good time” with the authoritarian leader, whom he referred to by his first name.
Trump said that during the private meeting they would discuss “trade, some disarmament, a little protectionism perhaps.” In a White House readout of the meeting, there was no mention of election interference having been discussed.
The leaders did discuss the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, as well as the rising tensions in Iran and Venezuela, all situations on which the Kremlin and the White House disagree.
Trump told reporters that the U.S. and Russia have a “very, very good relationship,” but his assertion ignores the fact that relations between Washington and Moscow have been deteriorating for years, since Russian annexed Crimea, backed the brutal regime of Basar al-Assad in Syria, and interfered in the 2016 election.
At least Putin seems aware of the situation: two weeks ago he characterized U.S.-Russia relations as “getting worse and worse.”
Trump has consistently ignored calls at home to hold Putin and Russia to account for hacking into the Democratic National Committee and leaking emails to WikiLeaks, even after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation concluded that Russia did interfere with the 2016 election.
Mueller will testify before Congress next month about how Russia interfered in the election, and the multiple connections between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Cover: President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)