On Wednesday morning, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ahead of his meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office.
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President Trump is hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House on Wednesday, one day after firing the man whose agency is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election that brought Trump to power.
Trump fired now-former FBI Director James Comey, who told Congress earlier this year that his agency has been investigating Russia’s actions — and possible ties to anyone associated with the Trump campaign — since last July.
Lavrov arrived in Washington on Tuesday. He met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the White House early Wednesday, ahead of a visit to the Oval Office to speak with Trump. That event is scheduled for 10:30 a.m., with no press access.
Tillerson’s office says his meetings with Lavrov were to focus on “Ukraine, Syria, and bilateral issues.” The two diplomats made a brief appearance this morning for a photo-op and as Tillerson began to lead his guest back behind closed doors, Lavrov responded to a question about Comey’s firing.
When a reporter asked whether the dismissal has “cast a shadow” over their talks, Lavrov stopped and seemed to look genuinely quizzical when he responded, “Was he fired?” — but then adopted a deadpan tone as he told the reporter, “You are kidding, you are kidding.”
With a theatrical twitch of his head, the Russian diplomat then followed his American counterpart away from the media. The exchange was not included in the State Department’s brief video snippet from the photo-op.
The meeting between Lavrov and Trump comes as the Kremlin has made its first public comments on Comey’s removal.
When Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked how the firing might affect U.S.-Russia relations, Peskov replied, “We hope that it will not affect them at all. That’s the United States’ internal affair. That’s the U.S. president’s independent decision, which has nothing to do and should have nothing to do with Russia.”
Trump’s firing of Comey has sparked new calls for an independent probe into Russia’s role in last year’s U.S. presidential election, despite his administration’s assertion that Comey is being replaced because of the way he handled the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
“This is nothing less than Nixonian,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee member.
Announcing Comey’s abrupt firing Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president “acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”