Trump meets with Russian foreign minister a day after he fired FBI chief James Comey
US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russia’s Foreign Minister in Washington DC a day after Trump fired his FBI director, who was investigating connections between the president’s associates and Russian officials.
The White House announced on Tuesday that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
In a separate memorandum released after the White House announcement, Rosenstein recommended Comey’s removal because of his announcement last July that Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted over her email practises. Comey’s announcement had improperly usurped the Justice Department’s authority over the matter, Rosenstein said.
The talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were the highest-level public contact between Trump and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin since the Republican took office on January 20. While not unprecedented, it is a rare privilege for a foreign minister to be received by a US president for a bilateral meeting in the White House.
Trump described his talks with Lavrov as “very, very good.” When asked whether the Comey dismissal had affected his meeting, Trump said, “not at all.” He and Lavrov said they discussed the civil war in Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad.
“We want to see the killing, the horrible killing, stopped in Syria as soon as possible and everyone is working toward that end,” Trump told reporters.
Democrats accused Trump of trying to slow down the investigation by firing the FBI chief.
Comey’s announcement had improperly usurped the Justice Department’s authority over the matter, Rosenstein said.
Tillerson and Lavrov “discussed the importance of defeating ISIS, de-escalating the violence in Syria, and ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches hundreds of thousands of civilians throughout the country,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement, which didn’t mention the FBI’s investigation into communication between the President’s aides and Russia.
Russia’s ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, a key figure in the FBI’s investigation, also attended the meeting. The President fired then national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting conversations he had with Kislyak after Trump won the 2016 presidential election.
That dismissal followed a Washington Post report revealing that former Attorney General Sally Yates, who was also fired by Trump, warned White House officials that Flynn’s misrepresentations left him vulnerable to blackmail by the Kremlin. Yates was fired by Trump in January for refusing to enforce an executive order on immigration and refugees, which eventually was blocked by US courts.
Comey’s firing sparked calls among some members of Congress to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible links to the Trump campaign.
Asked about whether Trump would support a new investigation led by a special prosecutor, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “We don’t think it’s necessary” and that the Russia investigation is “one of the smallest things” among the FBI’s current priorities.
An earlier State Department transcript of the meeting between Tillerson and Lavrov, cites the Russian official as saying: “You are kidding” when asked by a reporter whether the firing of former CIA Director would “cast a shadow” over talks between the two.
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Lavrov said his discussions with members of the Trump administration had convinced him they were people who wanted to cut deals and solve problems.
“Now our dialogue is free of the ideologisation that was characteristic of the Obama administration,” Lavrov said. “The Trump administration, and the president himself, and the secretary of state, I was persuaded of this once again today, are people of action.”
US intelligence agencies concluded in a January report that Putin had ordered an effort to disrupt the 2016 election that included hacking into Democratic Party emails and leaking them, with the aim of helping Trump.
Russia denies the allegations. Blaming “fake information,” Lavrov said: “I believe that politicians are damaging the political system of the US, trying to pretend that someone is controlling America from the outside.”
The Trump administration denies claims of collusion with Russia.
Wednesday’s meetings followed talks Tillerson held with Putin last month in Moscow.
Additional reporting by Reuters