Have Trump and Putin met before? It depends when you asked
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WASHINGTON — Had Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin ever met before Friday’s highly anticipated encounter on the sidelines of an international summit in Germany?
Both men now say the answer is no — but that wasn’t always the case for Trump.
Trump has offered contradictory descriptions regarding his relationship and contact with the Russian leader. A look back at some of Trump’s words on the subject:
Trump was asked whether he had a relationship with Putin in a 2013 interview with NBC taped in Moscow ahead of that year’s Miss Universe pageant.
“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today,” said Trump, who used to own the beauty contest. “He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form. But I do have a relationship with him.”
Late-night night host David Letterman asked Trump during a 2013 interview whether he had a relationship with Russia ahead of the Miss Universe pageant.
“Well I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians,” Trump said, before being asked whether he’d met Putin personally.
“He’s a tough guy. I met him once,” said Trump.
During a May, 2014 speech in front of the National Press Club, Trump described having been in Moscow recently, “and I spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.”
In a 2015 interview with conservative talk-radio host Michael Savage, Trump was asked again point-blank whether he’d ever met Putin.
“Yes,” Trump said. “One time, yes. Long time ago.”
“Got along with him great, by the way,” Trump added.
Trump said he’d met numerous Russian leaders when he’d been in Moscow for the pageant.
“I got to know so many of the Russian leaders and the top, top people in Russia,” he said.
Trump’s story began to change during the campaign. At a Republican primary debate in November 2015, Trump said he’d gotten to know Putin “very well” during a joint television appearance.
“I got to know him very well because we were both on “60 Minutes;” we were stablemates,” Trump said, adding that they’d done “very well that night.”
Trump and Putin had appeared on the same episode of the news program, but Trump’s segment had been taped in New York; Putin’s in Russia.
By 2016, Trump’s story had changed completely. At a July, 2016 press conference, at the height of the general election campaign, Trump denied ever having met the Russian leader.
“I never met Putin, I don’t know who Putin is,” he told reporters in Florida. “He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius. I said, ‘Thank you very much’ to the newspaper, and that was the end of it. I never met Putin.”
“Never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about him other than he will respect me,” Trump added.
The story became even more confusing when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos tried to make sense of Trump’s contradictory statements, in a July 2016 interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
“I have no relationship with him. I don’t — I’ve never met him,” Trump said. Asked why he’d said otherwise, Trump said it was because Putin had “said nice things about me over the years.”
But Stephanopoulos kept on pressing, leading to the following exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: “Yet you said for three years, ’13, ’14 and ’15, that you did have a relationship with him.”
TRUMP: “No, look, what — what do you call a relationship? I mean he treats me…”
STEPHANOPOULOS: “I’m asking you.”
TRUMP: “with great respect. I have no relationship with Putin. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I never met him. I don’t think I’ve ever met him.”
STEPHANOPOULOS: “You would know if you did.”
TRUMP: “I think so.”
STEPHANOPOULOS: “I mean if he…”
TRUMP: “Yes, I think so. So I’ve — I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I mean if he’s in the same room or something. But I don’t think so.”
STEPHANOPOULOS: “I just want to clear this up, because you did say on three different occasions you had a relationship with him. Now you say there is not.”
TRUMP: “Well, I don’t know what it means by having a relationship. I mean he was saying very good things about me, but I don’t have a relationship with him. I didn’t meet him. I haven’t spent time with him. I didn’t have dinner with him. I didn’t go hiking with him. I don’t know — and I wouldn’t know him from Adam except I see his picture and I would know what he looks like.”
Putin has denied meeting Trump.
“We didn’t have any relationship at all,” he told NBC’s Megyn Kelly in a June interview through a translator. “There was a time when he used to come to Moscow. But you know, I never met with him.”