In Awkward Timing, Trump Meets Top Russian Officials at the White House

President Trump with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, left, and the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, at the White House on Wednesday. The White House did not allow American news organizations to photograph the meeting. Images were released through the Russian Foreign Ministry. (Russian Foreign Ministry)

What a day for President Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with a top Russian official.

Only hours after dismissing James B. Comey as director of the F.B.I., amid an investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials, the president met with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, at the White House. The Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak — best known to many Americans as the man who discussed lifting sanctions on Russia with Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser — was also in the Oval Office for the meeting.

The world’s only glimpse of this session came from the Russian news agency Tass, which distributed photos of the meeting, with a grinning Mr. Trump shaking hands with the two visitors. No reporters were allowed in to ask questions — though they were ushered in minutes later for Mr. Trump’s session with Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state.

And, at the State Department, there was no briefing on an earlier meeting between Mr. Lavrov and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. Mr. Tillerson is famously reluctant to talk with the press. So that left the field clear for Mr. Lavrov, who has now sat opposite four American secretaries of state and knows how to work the news media well, to describe the conversations.

And he did exactly that, inviting reporters to the Russian Embassy in Washington while Mr. Tillerson said almost nothing.

The firing of Mr. Comey was the main subject from the start: When Mr. Tillerson greeted his Russian counterpart in the diplomatic reception room on the seventh floor of the State Department, a reporter shouted a question about whether Mr. Comey’s dismissal “cast a shadow” on the meeting.

Mr. Lavrov, known for a puckish sense of humor, shot back: “Was he fired? You’re kidding! You’re kidding!” He then disappeared into Mr. Tillerson’s office.

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SOURCE: NY Times, David E. Sanger and Neil MacFarquhar