Top aides to President Trump are worried what Trump will say during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders meet at the upcoming G-20 summit.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that top aides to Trump are worried the president is "unwittingly" allying himself with Putin and that the two leaders will bond over their distrust of the media. Experts say that would be disastrous for Trump's administration.
“You don’t want to come out of there saying, ‘We’re friends, and the enemy is the deep state and the media,’” former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told the Times.
“If it were somebody else other than Trump, you could imagine a tough conversation about Ukraine and election meddling, but that’s probably too optimistic," he continued.
"Politics does constrain, I think, the parameters of the possible for any kind of major breakthrough.”
One former ambassador to Ukraine told the Times that a "cloud" of Russian collusion accusations hangs over the White House ahead of the meeting.
“There’s a fair amount of nervousness in the White House and at the State Department about this meeting and how they manage it because they see a lot of potential risks,” Steven Pifer said.
“There is this gray cloud for the president of the investigations about collusion, so any kind of a deal is going to get the micro-scrutiny of, ‘Is this a giveaway to the Russians?’”
But the Times reports that one person in the White House isn't worried at all: Trump himself. According to the report, Trump has told aides he isn't worried about the meeting and is more concerned about the optics of being scolded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel over his decision to exit the Paris climate agreement.
Regardless of what Trump says, the optics of the meeting are likely to speak volumes, according to a former Defense Department official.
“I expect an Olympian level of macho posturing between these two leaders, who both understand the power of symbolism,” Derek Chollet told the Times.
“Putin will be very prepared for this meeting. He’s someone who is a master at manipulation.”
Trump is scheduled to meet with Putin in Hamburg, Germany, at the annual G-20 summit on Friday. In a statement Wednesday, the Kremlin said it hoped to establish a "working dialogue" between the two leaders.
"This is the first meeting, the first time the two presidents will get acquainted — this is the main thing about it," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday.
"The expectation is that a working dialogue will be established, which is vitally important for the entire world when it comes to increasing the efficiency of resolving a critical mass of conflicts."
The meeting will be the first official meeting between Trump and Putin and comes amid swirling accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.