By barring all press but a Russian photographer from President Donald Trump’s meeting with Kremlin officials this week, the White House opened itself up to more Russia-related criticism from observers.
On Wednesday, Trump met with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, in the Oval Office.
And while American press was barred from attending, a photographer from Tass, Russia’s state-run news agency, took photos of the event. Those photos, which later surfaced on Tass’ website, were the only ones to emerge publicly from the meeting.
Numerous officials raised alarm bells over the timing, The Washington Post reports, which was a day after Trump fired James Comey, who as FBI director was in charge of the bureau’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in last year’s US election.
Kislyak has been a central figure in the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation. Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser after news of undisclosed conversations with the ambassador came to light, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation after contacts between him and Kislyak during the 2016 campaign came to light in March.
In response to a former national security adviser’s Twitter question on whether the decision to allow a Russian government photographer to be the only one to cover the event was sound, a former deputy CIA director, David S. Cohen, replied, “No, it was not.”
Other officials worried that surveillance devices could have been brought into the room, according to The Post.
Though some of the images suggested Trump was clearly aware he was being photographed, the White House reportedly tried to blame the Russians for the photos, saying it did not anticipate the photos would be posted online.
CNN’s senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, tweeted that a White House official had said Russians “lie” and had “tricked” US officials.
The incident also became the subject of controversy and snide comments in Russia after the country’s Foreign Ministry was the first to release the photos:
Some Russians joked that Trump would have to resign like Flynn now that he had met with Kislyak. One Ukrainian commenter joked that in one of the photos a smiling Trump looks as if 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.”
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