A new tell-all book from a Trump administration veteran has shed unflattering light on a key meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in 2019 – and has painted a picture of a US president being deftly manipulated by a foreign rival.
In particular, it seems one of the president’s aides was worried that Mr Putin was trying to exploit the commander-in-chief’s well-known germaphobia.
According to Stephanie Grisham’s I’ll Take Your Questions Now, which has been reported by The Washington Post, White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill raised the alarm about Mr Putin’s conduct during a meeting at the 2019 G20 summit in Osaka.
According to Ms Grisham, Ms Hill told the then-press secretary that Mr Putin seemed to be deliberately coughing and clearing his throat, possibly in order to trigger Mr Trump’s terror of germs and illness.
Mr Trump has previously called the practice of shaking hands “barbaric”, and aides speaking anonymously during his presidency described an atmosphere in which employees were afraid to be seen coughing, sneezing or failing to sanitise their hands.
The former president referred to these feelings in 2017 when defending himself against a dossier of unflattering (and in some cases unverified) claims about his personal life, some of which were sexually graphic. “I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me,” the president said of those particular rumours.
This was not the only character feature Mr Putin may have tried to exploit in Osaka; according to Ms Grisham, a former White House press secretary notorious for never having held a press briefing, Ms Hill also noted that the Russian president had chosen a particularly attractive translator, possibly to throw Mr Trump off his game.
Among the other key lines emerging from Ms Grisham’s Osaka narrative is that Mr Trump explicitly told Mr Putin he would pretend to be acting “tough” in public before they spoke more amicably in private.
This story of Mr Trump’s amicable attitude to Mr Putin has been backed up by others who observed the Osaka summit first hand. Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the Associated Press’s Jonathan Lemire described the atmosphere.
“It wasn’t like President Trump was ‘tough’ with Vladimir Putin,” he said. “I was at that summit. He kind of mockingly waved his finger at Mr Putin and said, ‘don’t meddle in our elections’, and like, it was clearly a joke … and behind the scenes, we know that he was even friendlier to his Russian counterpart.”
The Osaka summit took place in between the release of Robert Mueller’s report into connections between the Trump world and Russia and Mr Trump’s first impeachment, an event that followed his attempt to extort the president of Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden’s family by withholding military aid.
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