There’s been a fair amount of speculation about what exactly went on when Trump finally met his good buddy Putin at last week’s G-20 summit, in large part because Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson turned the two-hour meeting into Rashomon (if Rashomon were directed by the Farrelly brothers). Tillerson claimed that Trump strongly pushed Putin to tell the truth about what really happened in the 2016 election, telling the media, “The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.” Lavrov, meanwhile, told the press that Putin denied any Russian involvement in the 2016 election, and that Trump was totally cool with his denial: “President Trump said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements. That’s all.”
On Wednesday, Trump added his own voice to the choir and basically split the difference between the two accounts. Per Reuters:
“I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Trump said.
Asked if he believed Putin’s denial, Trump paused.
“Look. Something happened and we have to find out what it is, because we can’t allow a thing like that to happen to our election process. So something happened and we have to find out what it is,” he said.
Putin is a former KGB officer and skilled liar, but who knows, maybe asking him the same question in a “totally different way” threw him off his game. What’s most notable here is that, yet again, Trump can’t quite bring himself to spout the official line on Russian hacking. He can’t even mimic Tillerson’s line about what happened at the G-20 meeting, which was essentially that Putin repeated his lies about the hacking.
Everyone knows that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Donald Trump and seemingly everyone can say that except for Donald Trump. Then again, he did ask twice.