As Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin sat down for their first handshake ahead of a US-Russia summit today, the US president appeared to wink at his Russian counterpart while flashing a tight smile.
Coming days after the FBI indicted a dozen Russian spies for hacking into the Democratic National Committee, the friendly summit is already seen as a win for Putin, and a wink would seem particularly confounding. But it is a long-standing Trump tic, a gesture he’s used before to flatter, cajole, or hint at some inside information.
Asked last October to clarify comments he made at a photo shoot with the White House staff that it might be the “calm before the storm,” Trump responded “Thank you very much,” and winked at the camera (approx 1:02). The comments have never been clarified.
In July, he winked at photographers after a press conference with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in the Oval Office, in an apparent indication that he thought things had gone well.
Before he became president, Trump deployed the wink as a tool during his interactions with other powerful men, and particularly ones he needed something from. A 1997 profile of Trump in the New Yorker, that examines how Trump was able to resurrect himself after a series of bankruptcies, follows him to the grand opening of the Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle:
An efficient schmoozer, Trump worked the room quickly—a backslap and a wink, a finger on the lapels, no more than a minute with anyone who wasn’t a police commissioner, a district attorney, or a mayoral candidate—and then he was ready to go.
It’s also a way he has tried to get the attention of women he is attracted to. Multiple accounts of his wooing of model Marla Maples include Trump winking at her. In The Fortune Hunters: Dazzling Women and the Men They Married, author Charlotte Hayes recounts a book party for The Art of the Deal held at Trump Tower:
The black-tie crowd included model Cheryl Tiegs, movie star Michael Douglas, and socialite Anne Bass. It was clear to an astute observer that Donald and Marla were deeply attracted to each other. When Trump—who’d been winking at Marla all night, even though he was standing next to [first wife] Ivana—finally managed to talk to he, he was bashful, unusual for Trump.
Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump, quotes former head of Trump casinos Steve Hyde recalling an incident at a book signing for the same book:
Donald stood up to say a few words to the reporters there, and as he did he flashed a wink at someone across the room, standing up in the balcony. “I don’t believe he’s out there doing that,” Steve said to me, telling me how, when he looked up at the balcony, there was Marla Maples winking back.
French president Emmanuel Macron has returned the favor, winking at Trump during a 2017 press conference in Paris, and again this past April, as Trump hinted that he might not pull out of the Iran deal (he did).
Putin, for his part, seemed relatively unaffected by the gesture. As Trump’s eyelid fluttered and the cameras flashed, he didn’t even crack a smile.