Photos of President Donald Trump‘s meeting with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office on Wednesday raised eyebrows as well as security concerns when the pictures were released by the Russian government rather than the White House.
The images show the president laughing and looking chummy with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. U.S. reporters and photographers were shut out. The meeting, Politico reports, occurred at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a recent phone call with Trump.
“He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman told the outlet of Trump’s meeting with Lavrov. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”
The ongoing scandal over alleged ties between the Trump administration and Russia — and the fact that Kislyak has been a key figure in related investigations — also sparked concern about why he was allowed in such a protected area in the first place.
According to The Washington Post, White House officials were not informed the Russian photographer worked for Tass, a state-run news agency.
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“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 anonymous Trump administration official told The Washington Post.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova waved away criticism, claiming the incident was “protocol shoot” and accused the U.S. “mediasphere” of working itself into a frenzy on her Facebook late Wednesday.
The White House also publicly dismissed cause for concern, with a senior administration official telling The Washington Post that the Russian photographer “had to go through the same screening as a member of the U.S. press going through the main gate to the [White House] briefing room.”
The meeting occurred just one day after Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey — a fact that Lavrov appeared to be unaware of before the start of his meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
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“Was he fired? You are kidding,” he said after reporters asked if the firing would affect their talks.