Below, a brief chronology of Trump’s claims.
June 2013: “Will he become my new best friend?”
Trump’s nonexistent relationship with Putin began with a simple query on Twitter, as the businessman prepared to bring his Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.
Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013
Trump has tweeted about Putin 66 times.
November 2013: “I do have a relationship”
As the pageant approached, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts — who hosted it — sat down to interview Trump. He asked about Trump’s relationship with Putin.
“I do have a relationship and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.”
March 2014: “Putin even sent me a present”
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump told the audience that he’d interacted with Putin’s team when he was in Moscow.
BuzzFeed News found the video:
“You know, I was in Moscow a couple months ago, I own the Miss Universe pageant, and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a present, beautiful present, with a beautiful note. I spoke to all of his people. And, you know, you look at what he’s doing with President Obama. He’s, like, toying with him. He’s toying with him.”
May 2014: “I spoke … with President Putin”
Speaking at the National Press Club, Trump again raised the Miss Universe pageant — this time inflating his burgeoning friendship with the Russian president.
“I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently. And I spoke indirectly — and directly — with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.”
November 2015: “I got to know him very well”
Asked what Trump would do to confront Russian aggression, Trump first downplayed Russia’s role, noting that there were issues with other countries, too. Then he described knowing Putin — because he and the Russian leader had both been on the same episode of “60 Minutes.”
“But, as far as the Ukraine is concerned, and you could Syria — as far as Syria, I like — if Putin wants to go in, and I got to know him very well because we were both on ‘60 Minutes,’ we were stablemates, and we did very well that night. But, you know that.”
As Time magazine later explained, Trump and Putin never met during the taping of the show. Trump was interviewed in New York and Putin in Moscow.
July 2016: “I don’t know who Putin is”
As the general election heated up, new attention was paid to Trump’s relationship with Putin, prompted both by allegations of Russian hacking that aided Trump and his former campaign manager’s ties to the Russian government.
During his last news conference before the election, Trump was asked about a relationship with Putin.
“I never met Putin, I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius. I said thank you very much to the newspaper and that was the end of it. I never met Putin.”
(Putin did not call Trump a genius.)
“I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about him other than he will respect me.”
This was the news conference where Trump encouraged Russia to release emails hacked from Hillary Clinton’s private server.
July 2016: “I have no relationship with him”
Trump was asked about his relationship with Putin in more detail a few days later during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”
HOST GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?TRUMP: I have no relationship to — with him. I have no relationship with him.STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you have no relationship with Putin, then why did you say in 2013, I do have a relationship. In 2014, I spoke …TRUMP: Because he has said nice things about me over the years.
When Trump mentioned the “60 Minutes” appearance, Stephanopoulos noted that they couldn’t have actually met.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet you said for three years, ’13, ’14 and ’15, that you did have a relationship with him.TRUMP: No, look, what — what do you call a relationship? I mean he treats me …STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m asking you.TRUMP: — with great respect. I have no relationship with Putin. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I never met him. I don’t think I’ve ever met him.STEPHANOPOULOS: You would know it if you did.TRUMP: I think so.
Stephanopoulos pressed the point.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But I just want to clear this up, because you did say on three different occasions you had a relationship with him. Now you say there is none.TRUMP: Well, I don’t know what it means by having a relationship. I mean he was saying very good things about me, but I don’t have a relationship with him. I didn’t meet him. I haven’t spent time with him. I didn’t have dinner with him. I didn’t go hiking with him.
October 2016: “I don’t know Putin.”
During the second presidential debate, Clinton accused Trump of having benefited from Russian interference in the election — a charge which metastasized after Election Day. Trump denied it.
“I don’t know Putin. I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example. But I don’t know Putin.”
He went on to add that “anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are — she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”
February 2017: “I don’t know Putin”
On Tuesday, Trump repeated his recent claim.
I don't know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy - yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2017
But this one we know is not true. Last month, Trump and Putin spoke on the phone, as part of Donald Trump’s new job responsibilities.
In 2013 and 2014, a relationship with Putin gave Trump gravitas and standing. In 2016, it became a liability. At this moment, it’s still politically preferable for Trump to keep his distance — even as that distance has vanished.
We can say one thing, though. When it comes to meeting world leaders, the presidency is more effective than running the Miss Universe pageant.
July 2017: “It’s an honor to be with you”
At long last, Trump and Putin meet face-to-face.