President Donald Trump personally met Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the run up to the 2016 presidential election, despite his repeated claim that he had no contact with Russia during his campaign.
The information, which was already in the public domain, surfaced in a Wall Street Journal article, published in May 2016, which recently resurfaced. The report covers a foreign policy speech made in Washington D.C. on April 27.
In the speech, Trump expresses his aspiration for “improved relations with Russia” if he were to become president. The article goes on to explicitly describe Kislyak’s meeting with Trump: “A few minutes before he made those remarks, Mr. Trump met at a VIP reception with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak. Mr. Trump warmly greeted Mr. Kislyak and three other foreign ambassadors who came to the reception.”
This revelatory detail places the commander-in-chief at the center of a controversy that has plagued his administration since U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Kremlin orchestrated cyberattacks to manipulate the outcome of the presidential election in Trump’s favor. The pre-election activities of individuals within the Trump campaign then came under scrutiny as affiliation and interaction with Russian representatives was examined.
The White House has dismissed reports on the president’s encounter with Kislyak as “disingenuous and extremely misleading.”
“We have no recollection of who he may have shaken hands with at the reception and we were not responsible for inviting or vetting guests,” the White House responded in a statement issued late Tuesday. “To state a ‘meeting’ took place is disingenuous and extremely misleading.”
Already the allegations have resulted in the resignation of Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who managed to stay in office, having to recuse himself from Justice Department investigations into the matter. Importantly, both men had lied about or denied their conversations with Kislyak.
Trump himself has strongly denied every allegation that he had contact with Russian representatives during his campaign and called the speculation a “ruse” in a rambling and defensive press conference in February.
At a February press conference, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of the question of the Trump campaign’s Russian connections: “This is a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened… The big point here is the president himself knows what his involvement was, and that’s zero. And I think that he’s the primary person that should be held responsible, and he had no interaction, and I think that’s what the story should be focused on.”
Of course, diplomats and politicians cross paths all the time, but it is the repeated denial of contact that is likely to cause the president most trouble.