On Sunday, July 9, 2017, coming out of the G20 Summit during which President Trump had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for over two hours, Trump tweeted that he and Putin “discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit.” But only 12 hours later, Trump seemed to change course on this suggestion, tweeting, “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t.”
The day before, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had said that Trump and Putin had decided at a meeting during the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, to embark on a joint “cyber unit to make sure that there was absolutely no interference whatsoever [in the U.S. election], that they would work on cyber security together.” Similarly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters the leaders planned to put in place “a working-level group” to handle cybersecurity issues. “The two leaders also acknowledged the challenges of cyber threats and interference in the democratic processes of the United States and other countries, and agreed to explore creating a framework around which the two countries can work together to better understand how to deal with these cyber threats,” Tillerson said. Russian officials also claimed that Trump accepted Putin’s explanation that the Russian government did not interfere with the U.S. election. This claim was later denied by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who said that Trump “absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin.”
Still, Trump’s July 9th tweet seemed to affirm Mnuchin’s statement that there were plans in the works to form a joint cybersecurity unit between the two countries. The tweet was immediately met with significant backlash from both parties. Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that, “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit.’” Similarly, Republican Senator John McCain joked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Putin’s participation in the U.S. cybersecurity effort would be helpful “since he is doing the hacking.” Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that a joint cybersecurity effort with Russia “would be dangerously naive for this country.”
Soon thereafter, President Trump tweeted that, although he and Putin discussed a joint cybersecurity unit, it would not happen, and in fact, could not happen. It remains unclear whether and how the two countries might “work together to better understand how to deal with [any] cyber threats” as was suggested by Secretary Tillerson.