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Evan Vucci / AP

Trump and Putin perfectly staged their first meeting so that both men could get what they needed out of it, politically.

"The deal": Sources close to Trump told us he went into the meeting believing it was still possible to strike a deal with Russia.

Now we have a better understanding of what that means: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says they spent a good amount of the meeting discussing a solution to the Syrian conflict, and we saw a gift-wrapped victory, with the post-meeting announcement of a ceasefire. Tillerson held out the possibility of larger cooperation — which should be understood as possibly a deal that would encompass fighting ISIS together and resolving the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Best of both worlds...

  • Sources who've spoken to Trump privately over the past few months say he's never fully bought into the intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the election to help him win. He believes to his core it's a politically-motivated "fake" attack by Democrats.
  • Still, Trump's advisers knew that if he didn't "confront" Putin over the election hacking then that would be the headline in every newspaper and on every cable news show after the meeting. It would drown out everything else they discussed and accomplished.
  • So Trump took a middle course: he raised the issue with Putin but Tillerson made clear in his briefing after the meeting that Trump has no intention of continuing to litigate the issue. They want to move on, Tillerson said.

Putin got what he wanted: he got the respect and recognition he craved. Trump said it was an "honor" to meet him, and Tillerson described the two leaders' chemistry in glowing terms. (They were having such a great chat, Tillerson said, that even when they'd run well over the allotted 30 minutes and Melania Trump came in to try to get her husband to leave, they ignored her and continued talking for another hour.) Putin can also spin the election hacking conversation to his advantage. The Russian spin is that Trump accepted Putin's assurance that he had nothing to do with the election hacking. (A Trump official has already disputed this to NBC News.)

The upshot: Trump, like many presidents before him, still believes he can reshape the U.S-Russia relationship. Today's meeting appears to have reinforced that view.

Go deeper

Updated 22 mins ago - Politics & Policy

"Believe your eyes": Prosecutors make closing arguments in Chauvin trial

Steve Schleicher, an attorney for the prosecution in Derek Chauvin's trial, began closing arguments on Monday by describing in detail George Floyd's last moments — crying out for help and surrounded by strangers, as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

Why it matters: The jury's verdict in Chauvin's murder trial, seen by advocates as one of the most crucial civil rights cases in decades, will reverberate across the country and have major implications in the fight for racial justice.

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
5 hours ago - Sports

European soccer is at war

Liverpool celebrating its 2019 Champions League victory. Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Europe's biggest soccer clubs have established The Super League, a new midweek tournament that would compete with — and threaten the very existence of — the Champions League.

Why it matters: This new league, set to start in 2023, "would bring about the most significant restructuring of elite European soccer since the 1950s, and could herald the largest transfer of wealth to a small set of teams in modern sports history," writes NYT's Tariq Panja.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
5 hours ago - Economy & Business

2021's expected earnings blowout begins

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon. Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

First-quarter earnings so far have been very strong, outpacing even the rosy expectations from Wall Street and that's a trend that's expected to continue for all of 2021. S&P 500 companies are on pace for one of the best quarters of positive earnings surprises on record, according to FactSet.

Why it matters: The results show that not only has the earnings recession ended for U.S. companies, but firms are performing better than expected and the economy may be justifying all the hype.

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