NEW YORK CITY — The White House on Tuesday shot down resurfaced reports suggesting US President Donald Trump met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in April, calling the accounts “disingenuous and absurd.”
As revisited Tuesday by the liberal-leaning AmericaBlog, a report in the Wall Street Journal last May said Trump and Kislyak interacted at a reception that preceded a foreign-policy speech the then-Republican frontrunner gave at a Washington, DC, hotel. A handful of other ambassadors were also present at the reception.
“The National Interest hosted Mr. Trump’s foreign policy speech and pre-speech reception,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email.
She added: “Several ambassadors were present. Mr. Trump was at the reception for about five minutes and then went immediately to the podium. We have no recollection of who he may have shaken hands with at the reception and we were not responsible for inviting or vetting guests. To state they met or that a meeting took place is disingenuous and absurd.”
Trump hinted he favoured a warming of relations with Russia in the speech, saying improved ties with Russia — “from a position of strength only — is possible, absolutely possible.”
The Wall Street Journal report did not make it clear the extent of the interactions. As scrutiny has grown over his associates’ ties to Russia, Trump has stressed on a number of occasions that he had no interactions with Russian officials during the campaign.
“Russia is a ruse,” Trump said during a February press conference. “I know you have to get up and ask a question. It’s so important. … Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to. I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me on the inauguration, a few days ago.”
Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump campaign following the revelation that he met Kislyak twice during the election season, which ran contrary to a statement he made during his Senate confirmation hearing. Sanders said Friday that Trump had “zero” involvement with Russian officials during the campaign.
“The big point here is the president himself knows what his involvement was, and that’s zero,” she said. “And I think that he’s the primary person that should be held responsible, and he had no interaction, and I think that’s what the story should be focused on.”
Recently, the New York Times also made note of Kislyak’s presence at Trump’s April speech.
The president of the Center for the National Interest, which hosted the speech, told the Times that he introduced Trump to Kislyak at the event.
But the president of the center, Dimitri Simes, said he did not think any extensive conversation took place because there simply was not enough time for one to have happened.
“There would have been no opportunity for him to talk to Kislyak separately,” he said. “After the speech was over, Mr. Trump returned to the holding area and then left the hotel without any time or format for a private encounter with anyone. Again, the Secret Service managed his movements.”
Trump has struggled to distance himself and his administration from the Russia-related controversy casting a cloud over the early days of his term. In February, Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser after it was revealed that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak. And the revelations about Sessions last week sparked a firestorm that preceded Trump’s Saturday tweets accusing President Barack Obama, without any evidence, of ordering a wiretap on his Trump Tower phones.
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