Fiona Hill, the former official at the U.S. National Security Council, specializing in Russian and European affairs, spoke to CNN's Don Lemon, remembering what it was like during the meeting between former President Donald Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin.
President Joe Biden will meet with Putin in the early hours of Wednesday morning in the United States, and there will be a significant difference between the Biden and Trump meetings.
Hill is the former expert who shredded Republican lies about the Russia investigation. She also revealed as part of the investigation into Trump's bribery of Ukraine that Rudy Giuliani was circumventing the National Security Council with his own shadow efforts. Giuliani has now become part of an investigation by the FBI into his international dealings.
Hill is known as a kind of Putin expert and she explained that the Russian president loves being unpredictable and "taking preemptive strikes," so there are a lot of possibilities that can come out of the meetings.
"It's not like these guys haven't sparred before," Hill explained. "Biden has been around for 50 years in politics. Putin has been president of Russia for about 20 years. These are both going to be very experienced people who will be sitting down here. What we're all hoping for, those of us who watch Russia and not in the business of making a drama out of it for television, is, we get out of this unscathed. What it would be good to be back again is to some kind of predictability and sequences of meetings so we don't have to hyperventilate every time there's an idea of an American president meeting with their Russian counterpart."
She said that Putin has been mocking Biden's age, but that he said he'd be around until 2036, which is when Putin will be six years older than Biden is now. "So he should be careful about that one," she quipped. She assumed that it would really just be Putin's attempt at making mischief. She also called it "BS" that Putin isn't preparing for the meeting with Biden.
"Putin is always really well-prepared. Every meeting I've ever seen him, he's thought one step, two steps, three steps ahead," Hill warned. "He's often in meetings prepared with note cards. And I think we've managed to defuse, potentially, we the United States, some of the mischief that Putin could get up to by the fact that we're not having a joint press conference."
Putin will have his chance of doing his own press event and put his own spin on the meeting. But right now, she thinks he's trying to get a measure of everything.
"How is the United States going to react. How is the media going to react? What is Biden going to present to him? How far is Biden going to push very strong messages? How much does Putin think he can get away with in the moment of the meeting and afterward?" she listed off her questions. "The other important point is Putin wants this meeting. He wants to be seen as an equal of the U.S. president, so this may be some limits to how far he would go. I think Putin at Helsinki, even realized that he'd pushed it too far. There were moments where he was trying to help Trump out of the predicament he got himself into."
Lemon brought up Hill's witness of the press conference with Trump and Putin in 2017 and that she thought very seriously about throwing herself back with a scream to fake a medical emergency.
"I did seriously think about it. I, first of all, looked around to see if there was a fire alarm but we were in a rather grand building attached to the presidential palace of the Finish president, who had lent it to us. I couldn't see anything that resembled a fire alarm. I had exactly the same feeling that Debra Birx had during the infamous press conference where there was the suggestion by President Trump about injecting bleach to counteract the coronavirus. It was one of those moments where it was mortifying and humiliating for the country and it was completely, I have to say, out of step with what had happened in the meeting prior to that."
She said that Putin tried to pull a fast one announcing his desire to interview certain Americans if Trump would turn them over. Hill said that Putin knew it would cause outrage, but it was the press conference itself and the way Trump handled himself that became the embarrassment.
"As I said, I just thought, let's just cut this off and try to end it," Hill recalled. "I couldn't come up with anything that just wouldn't add to the terrible spectacle. I think it's a great idea not to have a joint press conference after that and in fact, in the past, we haven't really had these joint conferences or press conferences between adversaries. It's more something you do with your allies. He's going back to something that we did in the past which is trying to avoid those kinds of embarrassing moments with adversaries when everybody will try to put you on the spot."
See the full interview below:
Fiona Hill interview www.youtube.com