Hey, if you can’t trust the Kremlin, who can you trust?
Picture this. The day after Trump fires the guy who’s leading the FBI’s Russiagate probe, he hosts the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador whose phone chat with Mike Flynn in December led to Flynn being fired. The meeting had been scheduled — at Vladimir Putin’s request — before the decision to can Comey was made, but instead of canceling it or at least asking the ambassador to stay home to avoid horrendous optics, the White House goes ahead with it. And not only do they go ahead with it, they let a Russian photographer into the Oval Office to take pictures on the assumption that he wouldn’t leak them the instant the meeting was over to troll the free world with the specter of Trump/Russia collusion in the wake of Comey’s termination. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “was right where he has always wanted to be Wednesday,” writes Susan Glasser, “mocking the United States while being welcomed in the Oval Office by the president himself.”
Who could have foreseen that this would go badly?
The White House did not anticipate that the Russian government would allow its state news agency to post photographs of an Oval Office meeting between President Donald Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the US, a White House official said…
The White House did not post photos of the meeting although an official White House photographer was also in the room, the White House said. The State Department did post photos of Lavrov’s meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but that was open to the press…
“They tricked us,” an angry White House official said.
“That’s the problem with the Russians — they lie,” the official added.
Even known liars can’t believe Team Trump got suckered this badly:
That makes twice in the span of 24 hours that the White House badly misjudged the optics of Comey and Russia. Supposedly, when Trump gave the order to let Comey go on Tuesday, he was convinced that Democrats would applaud him for terminating one of their designated villains from the election. And the dumber ones did applaud — at first. But people like Chuck Schumer reportedly warned him even before he’d notified Comey that this wasn’t going to play politically the way he thought it was going to play. Steve Bannon also had misgivings about the timing, per the NYT. You can forgive Trump for that misjudgment if you like, but what’s the excuse for going ahead with the meeting with Lavrov and especially Kislyak the day after, when critics were already melting down over the Comey decision?
But the propaganda opportunity isn’t the worst part of letting Russian media in:
[Former intelligence] officials cited the danger that a listening device or other surveillance equipment could have been brought into the Oval Office while hidden in cameras or other electronics…
Among those commenting on the issue was former deputy CIA director David S. Cohen. Responding to a question posed online about whether it was a sound decision to allow the photographer into the Oval Office, Cohen replied on Twitter: “No it was not.” He declined to elaborate when reached by phone.
Other former intelligence officials also described the access granted to the photographer as a potential security lapse, noting that standard screening for White House visitors would not necessarily detect a sophisticated espionage device.
Presumably the Oval Office was swept by top-level counterintelligence people after the meeting, but what about during the meeting itself? Did Trump say anything that might embarrass him if audio should mysteriously emerge later? Sally Yates’s reasoning for approaching the White House about Mike Flynn was that the Russians might have a recording of him talking to Kislyak about sanctions which they could use to compromise him later. In theory, Trump’s now in the same position.
But then, you wouldn’t really need Russian media in the room to run that risk, would you? Lavrov or Kislyak himself might have a recording device on him that’s sophisticated enough to avoid detection. That’s the problem with the Russians. They lie!
Meh. In all likelihood, they hacked Trump’s Oval Office phone months ago and turned it into a microphone so that the Kremlin can listen in remotely when he meets with people. Imagine how many times Putin’s heard the speech about how amazing Trump’s victory was and how Democrats rigged the popular vote. They probably gave up listening after a couple of weeks.
Update: One senior White House official tells the Daily Beast he “literally face-palmed” over this screw-up. Another official, likely a holdover from Obama’s administration, unloaded:
“This isn’t an ‘America First’ policy,” one of the officials fumed of the White House’s decision “to let the biggest perpetrator of fake news into the Oval Office.” Trump, the official added, is “either in bed with the Russians or too stupid to understand the severity of this mistake. Either way, the implications are truly terrifying.”