Russia is denying reports that President Trump shared classified information in his meeting with Russian foreign officials last week — even though it is unclear how any Russian official would know whether the “facts” Trump shared during the meeting were actually classified.
Meanwhile, Russia has publicly shared more information about the meeting than the White House has so far been willing to. And recent comments from a participant in that meeting shine light on how to reconcile apparent contradictions from the administration.
Russian Foreign Ministry officials told the Interfax news agency Tuesday that the reports that Trump shared classified information were “fake.” Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the ministry, also rejected the claims in a Facebook post. “Guys, have you been reading the American newspapers again?” she wrote, calling the Washington Post’s reporting — since confirmed by several other outlets — “yet another fake.” She suggested U.S. newspapers could be put to various uses, but shouldn’t be read. “Lately it’s become not only harmful, but dangerous, too.”
It was actually Russian media, not U.S. media, that revealed that Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also included Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — reporting that, according to one official, made the White House “furious.” Despite the visual evidence, the White House has repeatedly avoided any confirmation that Kislyak was in the room. He was not on the schedule for the meeting, he was not mentioned in the meeting’s readout, and he was not included any of the photos of the meeting that the White House later released. Even when discussing the new controversy that emerged this week about Trump reportedly sharing classified information, no White House official has acknowledged Kislyak’s presence.
Members of the Trump administration have also denied the reports about Trump sharing classified information in the meeting, but Trump himself appeared to confirm them in two tweets Tuesday morning. With Trump and White House officials seemingly not on the same page yet again, recent comments from Lavrov add to the complexity of the controversy.
On Sunday, Lavrov gave an interview with Russia Insider in which didn’t mention the meeting in question, but did respond to questions about U.S.-Russia relations. Pressed on why U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he made little progress when meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and why the U.S. was supposedly trying to isolate Russia at the United Nations, Lavrov was a bit flummoxed. “It is very difficult to answer the question why such contradictory statements are being made by different representatives of the Trump administration,” he said. “Perhaps they haven’t gotten accustomed to working together yet?”
He proceeded to take a firm position about how to navigate these contradictions: Listen to Trump. “We should primarily consider what President Trump says,” Lavrov insisted. “He expressed a high opinion of State Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Moscow and his own recent telephone conversation with President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Trump expressed willingness to continue our efforts to progress in the issues of mutual interest.”
Lavrov painted a rather rosy picture of the countries’ relationship, denying reports that communications were cut backafter the U.S. attacked a Syrian airbase. “Contacts between our countries had never been broken off, and if they had, the initiative had not been ours.” Lavrov revealed that, in fact, Trump and Putin have now spoken on the phone at least three times. The conversations “were highly charged, concrete, devoid of artificiality, and aimed at promoting our relations in the interests of both countries and the world community as a whole.”
Russia is thus sending contradictory messages regarding the current controversy. The country’s denials of the classified information being shared match what the White House has said, but Lavrov believes that what Trump says is more reliable than what his staff says — and Trump admitted to sharing facts. Given Russia has shared more about the meeting than the White House, these conflicting perspectives are puzzling, to say the least.
The full truth of what transpired in that meeting and of Trump’s relations with Russia may yet be more complex than any one of the competing narratives.