Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had a meeting at the White House with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister to which only Russian press was admitted.

Coming as it did less than a day after firing FBI Director James Comey, with the attendant suspicion that it was related to the Bureau's investigation of Russia's interference in the election, the optics of Trump's unusual meeting with Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak were already astonishingly bad. But it got worse.

The literal "optics" of the meeting--the photographs published after the meeting concluded--were provided exclusively by the Russian state news agency TASS. [UPDATE: Per CNN's Jim Acosta, the White House is now claiming it was "tricked" into allowing the Russian photographer.] American photographers and media were barred. But American cameras did capture the pre-meeting appearance with Lavrov and his State Department counterpart Rex Tillerson, where Lavrov made jokes about Comey's firing. The Russia meeting was the only event on Trump's public schedule today.

American cameras also managed to record the visit of Henry Kissinger, President Nixon's confidant and Secretary of State. Kissinger is a controversial figure under normal circumstances, but his appearance on the day after an event that is being compared to Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre added a surreal touch. Kissinger, who is in favor of allowing Russia to keep the Ukrainian territory it annexed in 2014, stood by Trump's side as Trump publicly addressed Comey's firing for the first time.

So what?

  • It's bad if a president shows more deference to a foreign country's official media bureau than to the independent American press.
  • A president who does not wish to be compared to Nixon or accused of being a Russian puppet should probably avoid taking meetings with Nixon's chief enabler on the subject of giving Russia what it wants.