Why in the world did Donald Trump welcome Russian officials into the Oval Office this week, the day after the president fired FBI Director James Comey over his investigation into the Russian scandal? A White House spokesman said this week Trump hosted the gathering "because [Vladimir Putin] asked him to."In his interview with NBC News' Lester Holt yesterday, Trump elaborated on the subject.
"When I spoke with Putin, he asked me whether or not I would see [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov]. Now what do I, should I say, 'No, I'm not gonna see him'? I said I will see him."
It's worth noting that Trump very easily could've said, "No, I'm not gonna see him." Russia did, after all, attack our democracy last year with an illegal espionage operation. The American president certainly has no obligation to accept requests from the Russian president.Indeed, David Cohen, the former deputy director of the CIA, noted to MNSBC's Andrea Mitchell yesterday how striking it was to see the president having a grand old time in the Oval Office with a Russian who's a potential figure in an FBI investigation.But can we pause to note just how controversial this meeting has become? And the degree to which the seriousness has escalated this week?First, it was controversial because of the timing: Trump meeting with Russian officials the day after firing Comey looked ridiculous.Then it was a little more controversial because American journalists were excluded.Then it was a little more controversial because a journalist from a state-run media outlet in Russia wasn't excluded.Then it was a little more controversial because of the security risk.Then it was a little more controversial because White House officials said Russia had "tricked" them.Then it was a little more controversial because Lavrov brought along Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a detail the White House readout neglected to mention, and something we only know because Russia acknowledged it. Kislyak, of course, is the official Michael Flynn talked to before he lied about it and got fired.And then it was a little more controversial because the entire meeting happened at Vladimir Putin's request, and Trump didn't feel as if he could say no.What an amazing fiasco.