Less than 24 hours after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the man who was leading an active investigation into Trump-Russia ties during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the commander in chief took it upon himself to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak into the Oval Office.
According to Politico, “The meeting was Lavrov’s first in the White House since 2013—and came after several years of the Obama administration’s flat-out refusal to grant him an Oval Office audience, two former senior White House officials told me. ‘The Russians were begging us for years to do that,’ one of the former officials said. ‘They were constantly pushing for it and we were constantly saying no.’”
Kislyak, meanwhile, is a Russian spymaster whose clandestine meetings with Trump officials during the presidential campaign helped lead to the termination of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the alleged recusal of Jeff Sessions from the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe (*alleged because FBI Director Comey’s firing reportedly came at the behest of Sessions).
Enter The Daily Show host Trevor Noah: “All of this madness is happening because of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia: firings, hearings, recusals, emails about Borscht recipes—all because of Russia. So, if you were Donald Trump right now, what’s the one thing you would stay away from?”
Yes, Russia—and more specifically, Kislyak, “the specific guy who got Michael Flynn fired and made Jeff Sessions have to recuse himself from the Russia investigation,” Noah continued. “If there’s one person you don’t want any more ties to, it’s this guy. He is the kiss of death. But as we all know, no one tells Donald Trump who he can kiss.”
Despite all the controversy, Trump brought the Sergeys into the Oval Office anyway. And Lavrov even trolled the President during a presser, feigning shock at Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey in front of a gaggle of reporters.
“For Lavrov, just having this meeting and the photo-op itself is a big demonstration to the world and to the Russian people that Russia is back, and that isolation has failed, irrespective of whether anything gets agreed,” Alexander Vershbow, former ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush, told Politico.
“You all may think this is shady, but Trump doesn’t answer to us. He answers to a higher power,” added Noah.
It was none other than Vladimir Putin who convinced Trump to receive the Sergeys. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman told Politico of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”
My goodness. “You know, it’s starting to feel less like Putin’s blackmailing Trump, and more like he has Trump hypnotized,” joked Noah. “And Donald Trump might be crazy, but it turns out he’s not stupid. He knew that this would look bad, so he didn’t allow any American journalists into the room: no photos, no documentation, no pics. So it didn’t happen, right? There’s just one little problem.”
It turns out that while President Trump didn’t allow U.S. press into the Oval Office, he did allow a Russian state news media photographer for TASS in to take photos—apparently believing that they would not share them online. It bears repeating: The President of the United States allowed a spymaster and his photographer into the White House Oval Office with cameras and electronic equipment.
Sure enough, the photos ended up online, and according to CNN, “The Russians used the photos to troll the White House in its social media posts Wednesday. The Russian Foreign Ministry posted a photo of a smiling US President shaking hands with Lavrov on Twitter, adding strange and ironic optics to the questions already swirling around the White House over Comey's firing.”
CNN also quoted an angry White House official who said of the Oval Office visit, “They tricked us,” adding, “That’s the problem with the Russians—they lie.”
“Wow! The Russians lied?! Oh, bless your soul, Trump. I can’t believe how innocent Trump’s people are: The Russians lied to us! When has that ever happened before? They said they wouldn’t take the pictures, but they did! How are you shocked that they lied?” asked Noah. “Was Trump standing there like, ‘Sergei! Why did you release those pictures? You even pinky swore!’ ‘Oh, I thought that was just one of your normal fingers.’”
“I’m sorry, like, Russia is owning Donald Trump so hard right now, it’s embarrassing,” Noah continued. “It’s like watching the Harlem Globetrotters: did he have to dunk on him and pull his pants down, man?”