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Published: Sat, May 13, 2017
World | By Lorena Waters

Russian photographer's visit to Oval Office raises security concerns


The White House is "not going to be able to run away from the rest of us - foreign policy experts, senators, national security experts - who want to know about what Russian Federation did by violating our sovereignty previous year", he said.

Flynn was sacked in February for lying to Vice President Mike Pence by denying that he had discussed the issue of USA sanctions with Kislyak. "What does that mean?" she said at one point. "You got it wrong", he scolded, pointing to the faulty translation as cameras flashed.

Yesterday, less than 24 hours after he fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who was investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election, President Donald Trump held a meeting with Russian government officials and barred any American news outlets from attending. Tillerson turned away without answering, but Lavrov wisecracked: "Was he fired?" Lavrov continued: "You are kidding".

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said US journalists asking questions of Lavrov after an Oval Office meeting with President Trump seemed "unaware of how silly it was to ask the foreign minister of a another country about the reasons for certain personnel changes in their own country".

After firing Comey, President Trump nearly immediately held a first, long-awaited meeting not only with Lavrov, but also with the Russian ambassador in Washington. Their photographer was the only one allowed in the meeting, while USA journalists were kept out.

"A senior congressional official with direct knowledge said Flynn's lawyer was told it was "wildly preliminary" and that immunity was "not on the table" at the moment". Russian officials had described the individual as Lavrov's official photographer without disclosing that he also worked for Tass.

The White House did not post photos of the meeting until Thursday.

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.

According to CNN, the meeting was set to emphasize the necessity for the USA and Russian Federation to combine forces in an effort to end Syrian and Ukrainian violence.

Given the alleged subterfuge, various former officials and experts chimed in with questions on the wisdom of letting the photographer and his equipment into the Oval Office. "The lack of transparency of having the press in that meeting is troubling".

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During the transition, Mr Trump's advisers floated the idea of moving the media from the White House to the nearby Executive Office Building to accommodate media interest. The White House official insisted it is standard practice to keep more of a lid on presidential meetings with lower-level foreign officials, as opposed to visits from heads of state, which typically come with greater press coverage. But again, proper protocol was followed in this procedure.

Remember, this is the same president who looked the other way and carefully clasped his hands near his lap in March when it was time for a handshake photo op with American ally and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Oval Office.

When asked whether it was a sound decision to allow the Russian photographer into the Oval Office, former deputy Central Intelligence Agency director David S Cohen replied: "No, it was not". Adding insult to injury, the White House didn't allow any US press to be present.

The episode even came up Thursday in a Senate hearing on threats to US national security. Sen.

Rogers told the hearing he had not been consulted beforehand. "I think that we're going to do very well with respect to Syria", he said.

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.

The Oval Office pictures could hardly have come at a worse time for Trump, deepening suspicions that he is too cosy with Putin's government.

He wrote: "There was nothing unusual about the photoshoot with Trump and Lavrov".

American reporters quickly figured out the photographer was actually a member of the Russian News Agency, or TASS, and that his photos were available for use via Getty. After noting that the only photos taken and released were from the Russian press - something the president has blamed on being tricked by the Russians - the CNN host touched on Russians taking advantage of Lavrov's joke.

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