Yesterday, a meeting took place in the Oval Office that would give pause to even the small number of Americans who still don't feel like they're living in a John le Carre spy novel.
One day after dismissing FBI Director James Comey, who was heading the investigation into collusion between his campaign and Russia, President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. The American media was not permitted to cover the event. But soon after the meeting, a photograph appeared on Twitter of Trump smiling broadly and shaking Kislyak's hand.
It was not taken with a selfie stick.
A photographer from the Russian news agency TASS, a state-controlled service, was in attendance, The New York Times reported. Within minutes of the meeting, images of the two men had been posted by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Russian Embassy posted images of Trump and Kislyak shaking hands. TASS released more photos of the three men laughing together.
In a town suffering from chronic TMJ, jaws still dropped all over Washington, D.C.
2 photos of Trump in the Oval Office with Russian FM Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak. They're from the Russians. Nothing from White House yet. pic.twitter.com/s8BSYDGn62
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) May 10, 2017
Former CIA agents told the Times that the meeting amounts to a major security risk. With open access to the Oval Office, the TASS photographer could have been used to plant recording devices or surveillance equipment.
The meeting came days after it emerged that Russian hackers attempted to interfere with Sunday's French presidential election.
Today, the White House claims it was "misled" about the photographer's presence. The Washington Post reported that the administration thought that Lavrov’s cameraman was an official state photographer, not a journalist. “We were not informed by the Russians that their official photographer was dual-hatted and would be releasing the photographs on the state news agency,” an administration official told the Washington Post.
CNN's Jim Acosta reported the White House was "furious." "They tricked us," a White House official said. "They lie."
WH furious over Russian government photos of Trump meeting with Lavrov/Kislyak. "They tricked us," an official said of Russians "They lie."
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) May 11, 2017
The Times reported that the White House did not tell reporters that Kislyak was to be in attendance at the meeting. The official White House readout of the meeting contains no mention of Kislyak. The White House claimed Kislyak just tagged along to the meeting with Lavrov. Reporters are still waiting for an explanation as to why they were not invited to the meeting, regardless of who was on the guest list.
Kislyak is nearly the patient zero of the current imbroglio surrounding the White House and Russia. It was the ambassador's meetings with former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, which Flynn allegedly lied to Vice President Mike Pence about, that caused him to be dismissed in February.