U.S. Intel Officials Alarmed After Trump Let Russian Gov. Photographer Into The Oval Office
During president Trump’s meeting with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office, no U.S. media was allowed. However, Trump had no problem allowing a photographer for a Russian state agency into the Oval Office, a level of access that has alarmed U.S. intelligence officials as a potential security breach.
According to the New York Times, White House officials barred U.S. reporters from witnessing the moment. They apparently preferred to block coverage of the awkwardly timed visit as questions swirled about whether the president had dismissed his F.B.I. director to squelch the investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Moscow.
But the Russians brought their own press contingent in the form of an official photographer, and Trump was more than happy to let him in.
Within minutes of the meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry had posted photographs on Twitter of Mr. Trump and Mr. Lavrov smiling and shaking hands. The Russian embassy posted images of the president grinning and gripping hands with the ambassador. Tass, Russia’s official news agency, released more photographs of the three men laughing together in the Oval Office.
The White House released nothing.
U.S. 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.
To make matters worst, Trump did not consult with the State Department or any intelligence agency before allowing a foreign agent with a recording device into the country’s highest office.
Among those commenting on the issue was acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who took over the top law enforcement agency just two days ago. Responding to questioning by the Senate Intelligence Panel on Trump’s decision to allow the photographer into the Oval Office, McCabe said: “No one consulted with us.”
The White House played down the danger, saying that the photographer and his equipment were subjected to a security screening before he and it entered the White House grounds.
The Russian “had to go through the same screening as a member of the US press going through the main gate to the [White House] briefing room,” a senior administration official said.
But U.S. Intelligence officials described the access granted to the photographer as a potential security threat, noting that standard screening for White House visitors would not necessarily detect a sophisticated espionage device.
The administration official also said the White House had been misled about the role of the Russian photographer. Russian officials had described the individual as Lavrov’s official photographer without disclosing that he also worked for TASS.
Colin H. Kahl, the former national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., took to Twitter to pose what he called a “deadly serious” question: “Was it a good idea to let a Russian gov photographer & all their equipment into the Oval Office?”
David S. Cohen, the former deputy director of the C.I.A. during the Obama administration, responded: “No, it was not.”