It's 2019, and, U.S. politics can feel like a very bad dream. Unfortunately, we are wide awake, and this is reality. While attending the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan from Friday, June 28 to Saturday, June 29, President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since the controversial 2018 Helsinki, Finland summit. Even though tensions have been high concerning the United States' relationship with Russia, Trump joked with Putin about election meddling at the G20 Summit. Yes, you read that correctly.
For years Trump has continuously praised his "very good" relationship with Putin, but the controversy surrounding Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election has made politicians and concerned citizens wary of the two's supposed "bromance." Well, during the 2019 G20 Summit, NBC News reported that while meting with Putin on Friday, June 28, Trump greeted the Russian leader with a big smile, and joked that he should steer clear of the 2020 presidential election.
"Don’t meddle in the election please," Trump told Putin. Trump later defended his remark, saying that he had confronted Putin about meddling and discussed it with him later as well.
It was a pretty odd subject for a joke, considering many are concerned about both Putin's interference and Trump's willingness to cozy up to the Russian president. U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, the FBI, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and others have repeatedly confirmed that Russia did interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and has continued to try to meddle in American politics. Nevertheless, Trump has repeatedly defended Putin, appearing to take his denials at face value and over the conclusions of his own intelligence team.
The situation is reminiscent of last year's controversial Helsinki, Finland G20 Summit. On July 16, 2018, the two world leaders brought up the topic of Russia interfering in the 2016 presidential election, which Putin has denied. At one point, a reporter asked directly Trump whether he believes Putin's claim that no meddling occurred, despite Mueller's findings. Trump's response? He sided with Putin on the issue.
"I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said in a joint press conference.
Following Trump's response, politicians from both sides of the aisle criticized the president siding with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies. GOP officials such as Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Sen. John McCain of Arizona also spoke out against Trump's defense of the Russian president. On July 16, 2018, McCain released a statement about Trump's meeting with Putin, which he called "disgraceful."
Americans most recently heard confirmation of Russian election meddling on May 29, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller addressed his findings in the investigation into Russian involvement and possible collusion with the Trump 2016 campaign during his first press conference. In the conference, he confirmed that Russian operatives launched a "sophisticated" attack on Democratic computers that influenced the 2016 presidential election. However, the special counsel did note that while the investigation found that the Trump presidential campaign did not collude with Russia during the election, it had expected to benefit from Russian election meddling.
The 2020 presidential election will be here before we know it. The first round of Democratic presidential debates were held on Wednesday, June 26 and Thursday, June 27, featuring 10 candidates each night. Even though it's unclear how this election will turn out, let's hope Putin took Trump's joke seriously.