President Donald Trump may tout his name as a global brand, but apparently in 2013 the "Apprentice" star and real estate mogul wasn't even on Vladimir Putin's radar.
When a reporter asked the Russian president Monday if he'd collected compromising material on the American president during Donald Trump's 2013 visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant, Putin said he didn't even realize Trump had rolled into town.
"Well, distinguished colleague, let me tell you this: When President Trump was at Moscow back then, I didn't even know that he was in Moscow," Putin said. "I treat President Trump with utmost respect, but back then when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow."
The unverified allegations that Trump engaged in a sexual encounter with prostitutes during that trip have not entirely escaped Putin's notice, however.
"Yes, I did hear these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow," Putin said in the Monday press conference. "When Mr. Trump came to Moscow, I didn't even know he was there."
Putin's suggestion that Trump's Moscow visit escaped his notice in 2013 was a new spin on the way Trump and others have described the buzz surrounding production of the Miss Universe pageant -- a glamour show licensed by Putin's pal, Aras Agalarov.
In an interview in Moscow during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, Trump said he did in fact have a 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."
In a 2015 interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Trump answered "yes" when asked whether he had any contact with Putin.
"I was there two years ago," he said. "We had a tremendous success with the Miss Universe contest ... and I got to meet everybody."
By Trump's account, Putin was supposed to attend the globally televised pageant but had to cancel at the last moment because of a conflict.
Rob Goldstone, a British-born music promoter who became the unlikely matchmaker between the Russians and Donald Trump's inner circle, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that there "was a lot of talk about whether Mr. Trump would meet with Mr. Putin" when he was in Moscow.
"It came down to the wire, and on the day of the contest, we still didn't know whether there would be a meeting or whether there would be a call," Goldstone said. "It transpired, in the end, that there would be neither, but that Mr. Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, called through Aras [Agalarov] to speak to Mr. Trump and gave his apologies that, due to the tardiness of the King of Holland, he was unable to schedule a meeting for Mr. Trump."
Goldstone came into the Trump orbit when he helped promote and stage manage Trump's Miss Universe pageant -- working for Emin Agalarov, a pop singer and the son Aras Agalarov, a Russian real-estate mogul.
As the suggestions that Trump fostered close ties in Russia began to gain currency in the 2016 campaign, Trump’s own recollections of his contact with Putin began to shift.
"I don't know who Putin is," Trump said at a 2016 news conference. "He said one nice thing about me ... I never met Putin."