U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a second, previously undisclosed conversation during the Group of 20 summit in Germany earlier this month, the White House said on July 18.
The two leaders held their first meeting, a formal bilateral conference that lasted more than two hours on July 7.
The White House said that hours afterwards, Trump and Putin had another "brief conversation" after a dinner for world leaders and their spouses hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Television coverage of the dinner showed that first lady Melania Trump was seated next to Putin.
The U.S. president went over to them at the conclusion of the dinner and visited with Putin, a White House official said, stressing that the conversation did not amount to a second bilateral meeting.
National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton would not specify the duration of the conversation. But he said the discussion was casual and should not be characterized as a "meeting" or even a less formal, but official, "pull-aside."
"A conversation over dessert should not be characterized as a meeting," he said.
Another White House official stressed that "there was no 'second meeting' between President Trump and President Putin, just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner. The insinuation that the White House has tried to 'hide' a second meeting is false, malicious, and absurd."
In a tweet late on July 18, Trump said: "Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is 'sick.' All G20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!"
"The Fake News is becoming more and more dishonest! Even a dinner arranged for top 20 leaders in Germany is made to look sinister!"
Ian Bremmer, the president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, who said he spoke to two people who attended the dinner, had a different account than the White House.
He said Trump got up from his seat halfway through dinner and spent about an hour talking "privately and animatedly" with Putin, "joined only by Putin's own translator."
The absence of a U.S. translator raised eyebrows among other leaders at the dinner, said Bremmer, who called it a "breach of national security protocol."
The White House said Trump used the Russian translator because the U.S. translator at the dinner did not speak Russian. Trump sat next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife. His translator spoke Japanese.
A U.S. official conceded that others at the summit were surprised to see Trump engage with Putin with no one else present.
"No one is sure what their discussion was about, and whether it was purely social or touched on bilateral or international issues," this official said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on July 19 that "he use of such definitions as a 'secret' or 'undisclosed' meeting raises eyebrows and causes confusion."
Peskov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the verbal exchanges between Trump and Putin "were neither secret nor undisclosed meetings. It is absurd to claim this."
Trump is under intense scrutiny amid allegations his campaign may have cooperated with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. Trump has denied any collusion.
Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters