Trump met Russian envoy during campaign

A protester outside the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, with a sign that refers to Russian President Vladimir Putin's alleged hand in the US election and Mr Donald Trump's boast of groping women.
A protester outside the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, with a sign that refers to Russian President Vladimir Putin's alleged hand in the US election and Mr Donald Trump's boast of groping women.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Brief meeting at reception at odds with spokesman's claim of having 'no interaction'

WASHINGTON • Last April, US President Donald Trump met the Russian ambassador at the centre of controversies over engagement between Trump allies and the Kremlin, despite claims by Mr Trump's spokesman that he had "zero" involvement with Russian officials during the campaign.

Attention to Mr Trump's encounter with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak resurfaced after revelations last week that at least five members of Mr Trump's campaign team - including Attorney-General Jeff Sessions - had contact with Mr Kislyak before Mr Trump took office.

The federal government has launched multiple investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 US presidential election and potential contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Mr Trump met Mr Kislyak during a VIP reception on April 27 last year at the Mayflower Hotel, shortly before a foreign policy address, according to a report at the time in the Wall Street Journal.

In the speech, Mr Trump said an "easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia" are possible.

The article, published on May 13 last year, reported that Mr Trump "warmly greeted Mr Kislyak and three other foreign ambassadors who came to the reception".

White House officials described the encounter as brief and non-substantive, saying that Mr Trump attended the reception for only five minutes and that multiple foreign ambassadors were present.

One of the officials said in a statement - e-mailed on condition of anonymity - that the campaign staffers, who were at the event, "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 official added: "To state they met or that a meeting took place is disingenuous and absurd."

But the meeting is at odds with White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' claim last week that Mr Trump had "no interaction" with Russian government officials during the campaign.

"The big point here is the President himself knows what his involvement was, and that's zero," she told reporters last Friday.

"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."

Meanwhile, even as the White House stood by Mr Trump's assertion that he was wiretapped by predecessor Barack Obama during the presidential campaign, top Republicans have provided little support to bolster his explosive and unsubstantiated claim, the Guardian reported yesterday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had not seen any evidence to back up a series of tweets by Mr Trump on Saturday that accused Mr Obama of wiretapping his phones at Trump Tower.

Mr Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also could not offer any proof of Mr Trump's allegations while speaking at a separate press conference, the Guardian reported.

"At this point, we don't have any evidence of that," said Mr Nunes.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'Trump met Russian envoy during campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe