By barring all press other than a Russian photographer from President Donald Trump’s meeting with Kremlin officials, the White House may have waded into even more murky territory.
On Wednesday, Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office.
And while American press was barred from attending, a Russian photographer from TASS, the country’s state-run news agency, took photos of the event. The photos, which later surfaced on TASS’s website, were the only photos that the public has seen from the meeting.
Numerous officials raised alarm bells over the juxtaposition, The Washington Post reports, since it came a day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the man in charge of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion in Russia’s meddling with the presidential election.
Kislyak has also been a central figure in the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned after news of undisclosed meetings with the ambassador came to light, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation after his 2016 meetings with Kislyak came to light in March.
In response to a former national security adviser’s Twitter question on whether the choice to allow Russian government photographer be the only one to cover the event was a sound decision, former deputy CIA director David S. Cohen replied “No, it was not.”
Other officials worried about surveillance devices being brought into the room, according to the Post.
Despite photos showing Trump smiling and shaking hands with Kislyak, the White House reportedly tried to blame the Russians for the photos, claiming that it did not anticipate that the Kremlin would post them.
CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta tweeted that a White House official said Russians “lie” and that they had been “tricked” by Kremlin officials.
In Russia, the incident also became the subject of controversy and snide comments after the country’s Foreign Ministry was the first to release the photos:
Some Russians joked that Trump would have to resign now that he’s met with Kislyak, since Flynn did. One Ukrainian commenter even wrote that, in one of the photos, a smiling Trump looks as though Kislyak “has agreed to head the FBI.”
The White House’s readout on the meeting outlined its focus on ending the war in Syria and Trump’s “desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia.”
#Lavrov – @realDonaldTrump meeting has just started В Овальном кабинете началась встреча С.Лаврова с Д.Трампом#RussiaUSA #РоссияСША pic.twitter.com/7raFrkWhiC
— MFA Russia ???????? (@mfa_russia) May 10, 2017
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