The US administration was again embarrassed Thursday after Moscow published embarrassing pictures of an in camera meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The photographs show a smiling Donald Trump shaking hands with Mr. Lavrov and Russian ambassador to Washington Sergei Kisliak, also posing with them at a meeting on Wednesday in the prestigious Oval Office.
This interview was already seen as a nice diplomatic move for the Kremlin: a welcome with a red carpet just a few months after the establishment of US sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Diplomats on Thursday questioned why the president had agreed to receive the two Russian dignitaries, an honor usually reserved for heads of state and all the more unfortunate that they are at the very heart of an ” A huge political scandal in the United States.
The administration remains stuck in charges of collusion between the entourage of Mr. Trump and Russian officials, including Mr. Kisliak, to favor his candidacy against his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Three investigations, in Congress and the FBI, are underway on this subject.
The spread of these photos contributes to the impression that Russia has won a diplomatic victory and that the White House has been manipulated.
“Congratulations Kolle gi (colleagues) for getting these photos! Huge shot,” said Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Moscow.
These photos were posted by the Russian Foreign Ministry on his Flickr account. “The format of the photo operation does not make it possible to take photographs without the knowledge of the people,” said Maria Zakharova, spokesman of the ministry, on its Facebook page.
“The US side had not asked not to publish these photographs,” she said.
In public, the White House tries to keep its head high: “It is normal that he meets the Minister of Foreign Affairs,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, spokesman for the executive, vilifying the critics.
Risk of cyber-intrusion
But in private, White House officials were boiling over what they considered an abuse of trust.
According to them, Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded this meeting between his minister and Mr. Trump, in reciprocity to his recent meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow.
The White House had been informed that a Russian official photographer would be present, suggesting that the photographs would be for the archives but were not intended to be broadcast immediately.
“Our official photographer and theirs were present, that’s all,” said an assistant shortly after the meeting.
But when the images were published around the world via a Russian public media, the rage took over the White House from being deceived. Two officials acknowledged that they had not been notified of their publication.
Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the NSA listening and espionage service, said Thursday at a congressional hearing that he was not personally consulted about a possible risk of cyber-intrusion or piracy This interview in the Oval Office, and not being aware that the NSA was consulted.
The meeting took place a few hours after US President FBI boss James Comey was dismissed by surprise and investigated the possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
The presence in the Oval Office of Mr. Kisliak only exacerbated the discomfort since his contacts with several relatives of Mr. Trump are at the heart of the suspicions of collusion.
Michael Flynn was forced to resign in mid-February from his post as director of national security for failing to reveal his exchanges with the Russian ambassador.