The only public event on President Trump’s calendar the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey amid an ongoing investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russian officials was a White House meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
American media was banned from covering the event. A Russian photographer, however, was not, so the American public was able to see images of the meeting thanks to Russia’s state-run press.
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) May 10, 2017
Photos of Trump's meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak just hit the Getty wire and they're all credited to Russian news agency TASS pic.twitter.com/qE9lWB6KuS
— Matt Novak (@paleofuture) May 10, 2017
According to the White House press pool’s report, American journalists were summoned into the Oval Office just after 11:20 a.m. for what they assumed would be a spray of Trump meeting with Lavrov. But when they entered, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was unexpectedly sitting next to Trump. Kissinger worked for President Nixon, who resigned from office in 1974 amid an obstruction scandal.
Here's video of President Trump, sitting in the Oval Office with Henry Kissinger, saying he fired Comey because he "wasn't doing a good job" pic.twitter.com/AbPEPyQsm8
— Tom Namako (@TomNamako) May 10, 2017
The White House’s official readout of the meeting made no mention of Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s attendance.
Lavrov traveled to the White House from Foggy Bottom, where he met at the State Department with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who received the Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin in 2013.
During a brief appearance before journalists, Lavrov mocked an American journalist who asked him if “the Comey firing cast a shadow of your talks.”
“Was he fired?” Lavrov said, sarcastically. “You’re kidding! You’re kidding!”
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) May 10, 2017
Lavrov’s meetings with Trump administration officials came as the New York Times broke news that days before his firing, Comey “asked the Justice Department for a significant increase in money and personnel for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.” Sessions, who said he would recuse himself from from any investigations involving Russia and the Trump campaign after his false statements about his meetings with Kislyak came to light a couple months ago, recommended that Comey be fired.
A Politico report about the chain of events that culminated in Comey’s firing also connected it to Trump’s concerns about the Russia investigations, noting that the president “had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.”
If Trump really wants it all to go away, meeting with Kissinger and numerous Russian officials the day after he fires the FBI director amid an ongoing investigation into his campaign’s Russia connections is an odd way to do it.
The Trump administration’s decision to ban American journalists from the meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak comes a day after a journalist in West Virginia was arrested for asking questions to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Trump has attempted to smear and discredit outlets that cover his administration critically, while praising and amplifying those that provide unquestioning support.
In early January, the U.S. intelligence community released its declassified intelligence report about Russia’s meddling in the presidential election. A significant portion of it details Russian state-owned television station RT’s efforts to help Donald Trump.
In addition to accusing RT employees of collaborating with WikiLeaks, the report said RT “consistently cast President-elect Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional U.S. media outlets that they claimed were subservient to a corrupt political establishment.”
Following Trump’s victory, RT “hailed President-elect Trump’s victory as vindication of Putin’s advocacy of global populist movements — the theme of Putin’s annual conference for Western academics in October 2016 — and the latest example of Western liberalism’s collapse.”
UPDATE: Jordan Fabian, a journalist for The Hill, clarified the matter of exactly who was and wasn’t allowed to cover the Trump-Lavrov-Kislyak meeting.
I’ve received multiple questions from my colleagues in the press corps about who was allowed into this morning’s meeting with President Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The questions arose in part because TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency, published photos from the meeting, even though it was closed to the press.
This was the White House’s response when I asked whether members of the Russian media were allowed into the meeting:
“On background, our official photographer and their official photographer were present, that’s it.”