The White House didn’t want anybody to know that President Trump met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday, and nobody would have known if Russian media hadn’t published multiple photos of all three of them in the Oval Office. But with that cat out of the bag, the administration — “furious” about the Russian photos — is still pretending like Kislyak wasn’t there.
Thursday evening, Trump tweeted out a photo of his meeting, and it neither showed nor mentioned Kislyak.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2017
Indeed, the White House has released its own photos of the meeting, but none of them include Kislyak, even though he was clearly present according to the photos published by TASS, Russia’s state-owned media agency. Kislyak was also absent from the original scheduling of the meeting and went similarly unmentioned in the White House’s readout of the meeting.
It seems as though Kislyak, who has been Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. since 2008, meets with a lot of people, but nobody wants to admit it. In March, Politico called him “Washington’s most dangerous diplomat.”
It’s because of meetings with Kislyak, for example, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the FBI’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump administration and Russia. Despite meeting with him at least twice while serving as a Trump surrogate, Sessions testified during his confirmation hearing, “I did not have communications with the Russians.” He was never charged with perjury for this lie under oath, and his role in recommending FBI Director James Comey be fired is rather conspicuous given his recusal.
Kislyak is also largely responsible for bringing down Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn met with him in December and discussed whether the Trump administration would reverse sanctions against Russia that the Obama administration had put in place. Vice President Mike Pence claimed sanctions weren’t discussed at that meeting, and Trump later fired Flynn for having misled Pence on this point. It turns out President Barack Obama had warned Trump about Flynn, and the full extent of Flynn’s contact with the Russians is not yet fully known.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner also met with Kislyak along with Flynn back in December — a separate meeting from Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak about sanctions. Through that meeting, however, Kislyak also set up a meeting between Kushner and the chief of Vnesheconombank, one of the Russian banks impacted by Obama’s sanctions. That meeting did not come to light until months later, because Kushner didn’t disclose it to Trump transition officials. He claimed it was inconsequential and that they didn’t discuss business, but Kushner was still CEO of his family’s real estate empire at the time.
Trump himself had previously met with Kislyak and then lied about it. Back in April of 2016, the two met prior to a major foreign policy speech Trump was giving. Kislyak was then seated in the front row at the invite-only event. It was just a few months ago that Trump insisted, “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.” That remark was eerily akin to the many self-incriminating comments he has made this week asserting that is not under investigation and that he fired Comey because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.”
Kislyak keeps popping up in other places as well. For example, he attended Trump’s inauguration, as well as his speech to a Joint Session of Congress. He seems to be ominpresent, and yet no one wants to talk about having met with him.
Because the Trump administration has decided to conceal the White House visitor logs, there will be no way of knowing just how often Kislyak stops by. Judging from how insistent they’ve been about denying he was there this week, that seems to be the way they prefer it.