Donald Trump’s arrival at the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7 July 2017 was made even more awkward than usual due to an apparent prank played on him by his German hosts, according to a new documentary on the former US president’s foreign policy record.
Dr Fiona Hill, a former Russia expert at the US National Security Council and a prominent witness during Mr Trump’s first impeachment, alleges in a new BBC documentary that the seating arrangements for the gathering’s gala dinner were deliberately contrived so as to seat the American first lady, Melania Trump, next to the Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The summit was Mr Trump’s first in-person meeting with Mr Putin and came after months of speculation that the Kremlin had played a role in interfering in the 2016 US election to ensure the Republian nominee beat Democratic favourite Hillary Clinton, the matter then the subject of an ongoing investigation by FBI special counsel Robert Mueller.
“The president’s main goal was to just have a sit down with Putin,” Dr Hill tells the BBC’s new three-part series Trump Takes on the World.
“He was of the view that given his own personality he would be able to spark off good chemistry.”
When they duly sat down together for a press call, Dr Hill recalls: “The president was clearly uncomfortable with dealing with the issue [of election meddling] head-on. He associated any discussion of this with his own legitimacy as president.”
His embarrassment would only intensify at that evening’s formal dinner.
“We learned late on that the Germans had made the, for us, inconceivable decision to seat the first lady next to President Putin,” the foreign policy expert remembers.
“They could have placed her next to anyone in the G20, but no, they had to pick President Putin, knowing full well that everyone would be scrutinising every interaction and so President Trump went over, as was inevitable, to talk to his wife.”
He sat chatting with the pair for over an hour, to the amusement of other world leaders, who knew how the pictures would play out in light of the investigation into President Trump’s ties to Moscow ongoing back in Washington.
In the same programme, Dr Hill also recalls finding Mr Trump’s decision to side with Mr Putin’s denials over the opinion of his own intelligence officials at the following year’s bilateral summit in Helsinki, Finland, so excruciating that she considered faking a medical emergency to get herself out of the room.
Trump Takes on the World begins on Wednesday at 9pm on BBC Two.