En route to Buenos Aires on Thursday, Donald Trump had a change of heart. Less than an hour earlier, as he walked across the White House lawn, the president had told reporters that he was looking forward to meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the annual G20 summit. “I probably will be meeting with President Putin,” he said. He had considered canceling the meeting—on Sunday, Russian forces fired at and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels—but decided to press ahead. “They’d like to have it,” he explained. “I think it’s a very good time to have the meeting.” The West Wing appeared to be on the same page. A senior administration official emphasized the importance of maintaining a “high-level dialogue” to address the Ukraine situation on Wednesday night. The Kremlin confirmed earlier Thursday that the Trump-Putin sit-down was on for around noon on Saturday at the Park Hyatt.
As Air Force One was preparing to leave Washington, however, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, dropped a bombshell. Standing in a New York City courtroom on Thursday morning, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his negotiations with Russian officials to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen previously told lawmakers that those conversations ended in January 2016 because of “business reasons.” In fact, Cohen admitted, he continued to pursue business in Russia as late as June 2016—well into Trump’s presidential campaign. (Trump responded to the news by calling Cohen a “weak person.”)
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