In a tweet on Friday, President Trump lashed out at critics of his campaign’s ties to Russia, namely Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who 13 years ago posed for a photo with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The president has drawn increased scrutiny in recent days following reports that some of his closest aides—including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—repeatedly met with intermediaries for the Russian Federation, both before the election and in the weeks prior to Trump’s inauguration.
Among the topics reportedly raised during conversations between Trump associates and Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, were the economic sanctions imposed by the Obama White House following 2016 cyberattacks against the Democrats, and Ukraine, territories of which the Russian military currently occupies in violation of international law.
After news broke that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was among the Trump advisors who met with Kislyak during the campaign—the then-Alabama senator joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 as a national security adviser—Sessions was called to recuse himself from any investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. He did so Thursday afternoon; however, some Democrats argued that didn’t go far enough.
“There cannot be even the scintilla of doubt about the impartiality and fairness of the attorney general, the top law enforcement official of the land,” Schumer said in a statement. “Because the Department of Justice should be above reproach, for the good of the country Attorney General Sessions should resign.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2017
Trump responded on Friday by tweeting a photo of Schumer from 2003 showing the New York Democrat standing alongside Putin while the pair enjoyed coffee and a donut. “We should start an immediate investigation into [Schumer] and his ties to Russia and Putin,” wrote Trump. “A total hypocrite!”
Schumer responded by tweeting that his contact with Putin took place in full of the press and the public, while asking Trump if he and his team would submit themselves to similar scrutiny “under oath.”
The origin of the Schumer-Putin photo, in which both men appear to be blithely enjoying one another’s company, is not controversial. On the invitation of President George W. Bush, Putin visited Camp David to discuss, among other topics, the Russian military cooperation in the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a press release dated Sept. 27, 2003, the two presidents also talked about strengthening commercial and economic relations and cooperation “in the battle against HIV/AIDS.”
Putin also came to New York City a few days before where he visited a West Side Manhattan gas station, which is where the photo of Schumer and Putin was snapped. Lukoil, Russia’s largest oil company, bought up 1,300 Getty gas stations in 2000, and the New York one was the first under Lukoil to open in the U.S.
Visitors to the station that day had varied opinions of the Russian leader, according to an article in New York Daily News. One man, who knew nothing of Putin’s reputation, said he was “lured by relatively cheap fuel,” while another praised Putin because “no one else is going to do the job there.” A woman from Westchester County remarked that Putin struck her “as a rather totalitarian leader,” though that didn’t stop her from observing the spectacle.
The previous day, Putin attended a ceremony alongside then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg in remembrance of those killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He reportedly cried while laying a bouquet of red carnations at the memorial wall honoring fallen New York firefighters. “I think that many people now have tears in their eyes when they look at this,” he said.
Putin also visited the Fire Academy on Randall’s Island, reports the Daily News, “where Russian firefighters trained with New York’s future Bravest.”