The Washington Post is reporting that President Donald Trump gave top Russians “highly classified information” during an Oval Office meeting – a claim that the White House and top Trump administration officials hotly deny.
It wouldn’t be illegal for Trump to have done so, but the anonymously sourced Washington Post report says that “current and former U.S. officials… said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has flatly declared the Washington Post report false.
However, weren’t reporters or photographers there to provide independent accounts?
Actually, the only photographic evidence of the meeting in question came from TASS, the Russian state news agency. The meeting (pictured above) took place on May 10 between Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavlov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak (the latter’s phone conversations with Michael Flynn helped spur his resignation).
“The Lavrov meeting was closed to the press and the only visual account we have of it thus far is via handout photos from the Russian government,” Jordan Fabian, of the Hill, wrote in a pool report after the meeting. “Those images show Trump also met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.”
White House officials “barred reporters from witnessing the moment,” reported The New York Times, which added that the Russians brought an “official photographer” whose snaps were soon disseminated by TASS. An anonymous White House aide told The Times that the official White House photographer was also present, but the White House has released no photographs of the meeting, meaning the only visual documentation of it to hit the public eye thus far is from the Russian state-run media.
Photographer Alexandr Scherbak “covered the meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US President Donald Trump as a member of the minister’s press pool,” reported TASS, the state news agency of Russia, which accused American journalists of bias.
The fact that Russian state media got the only photo op in the White House was previously reported and quite criticized. It takes on new urgency though as the importance of the meeting in question – and what was said or not said – has been elevated by The Washington Post account. The White House and State Department have also denied the Post report in written statements.
Other reporters did capture photos of the Russian foreign minister Lavrov outside the White House after the meeting. On Twitter, people are already wondering whether Trump – or someone – might also have taped the meeting, in the wake of the president’s tweet that implied he might have taped ousted FBI Director James Comey. Some of them mean that as a joke. There weren’t any American reporters allowed in to record anything, though.
The photographer who took the series of photos that were distributed by TASS, Alexandr Scherbach, has defended himself on Facebook in a lengthy post. He wrote, in part:
There was nothing unusual about the photoshoot with Trump and Lavrov. Everything was typical. After the meeting with Tillerson I was taken by a US representative to the White House. I was scanned, patted down, and then sniffed by canines. Then I was waiting for the arrival of our delegation in a room in the White House. I was introduced to a female photographer who works there and was told to stay by her side as she knows all the protocol details. I took only two cameras to the photoshoot, I left all my stuff, including my cellphone, in another room as I was told to do.
You can read his full post here:
Non Russian media did manage to get some photos of Lavrov, but they were from the outside of the White House. Here are some of those photos, courtesy of Getty:
You can listen to McMaster’s response here: