(CNSNews.com) – As an MSNBC host and on-air analyst pondered what President Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov could have been talking about in their Oval Office meeting on Tuesday, the analyst – a former State Department official – wanted to know why a president was meeting with a foreign minister at all.
“Why is a head of state meeting with the Russian foreign minister?” former Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel wondered. “Vladimir Putin doesn’t meet with Mike Pompeo when he comes to Moscow. So it’s very curious and very strange.”
Later in the show – Lawrence O’Donnell’s “The Last Word” – Stengel said the Russians “love having Trump meeting with the foreign minister. He’s not even opening the door to Putin, he’s – foreign minister.”
“And, and surely Trump doesn’t understand that – that status imbalance that he’s engaging in?” suggested O’Donnell.
“Apparently,” Stengel added.
And, despite Stengel’s assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin “doesn’t meet with” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Moscow, Putin has held meetings with not only Pompeo but every secretary of state since Madeleine Albright – most of them at the Kremlin. (See below.)
Two such meetings took place during Stengel’s tenure at the State Department, when Secretary of State John Kerry – Stengel’s boss – met twice with Putin at the Kremlin in the space of less than four months, on March 24, 2016 and July 14, 2016.
Election meddling raised
After Tuesday’s meeting, Trump tweeted, “Just had a very good meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and representatives of Russia. Discussed many items including Trade, Iran, North Korea, INF Treaty, Nuclear Arms Control, and Election Meddling. Look forward to continuing our dialogue in the near future!”
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that Trump during the meeting “warned against any Russian attempts to interfere in United States elections.”
But answering reporters’ questions later that day, Lavrov said that during his talks with Trump, “We did not discuss elections at all” – although he added minutes later that he had raised with Trump the fact that Pompeo, in a separate meeting earlier in the day, had brought up Russian election interference.
On Wednesday, Pompeo was asked at the State Department about Lavrov’s apparent denial, and rejected it, saying that “Lavrov’s statement is not accurately a reflection of my recollection of that [White House] meeting.”
“And there is no mistake that President Trump made clear in the meeting, that he had with Foreign Minister Lavrov and the rest of the Russian team that was there, that President Trump personally, and America, finds their meddling in our elections unacceptable, in the very same way that I had said it earlier to Foreign Minister Lavrov,” Pompeo added.
During O’Donnell’s show on Tuesday night, both he and Stengel voiced suspicion about what really happened in the Oval Office meeting, with O’Donnell saying there was “less than one percent chance” that Trump had actually raised election meddling with Lavrov.
“One reason that it’s scary that we don’t know what happened there is we don’t know what Lavrov extracted from Trump in that meeting,” Stengel said.
“And it’s possible that Trump doesn’t even know what was extracted from him, right, the way that those exchanges go?” O’Donnell asked.
Returning to the optics of the meeting, Stengel said, “I’m not exactly sure what it does for the Russians. It makes Trump still look like a toady, like he’s on marionette strings.”
Putin was president from 2000-2008, then handpicked Dmitry Medvedev to fill the post for four years while he served as prime minister, before returning to the presidency in 2012. While president, he met with every secretary of state since Albright:
--Mike Pompeo, May 14, 2019, in Sochi
--Rex Tillerson, Apr. 12, 2017, at the Kremlin
--John Kerry, Jul. 14, 2016, at the Kremlin
--John Kerry, Mar. 24, 2016, at the Kremlin
--Hillary Clinton, Sept. 8, 2012, in Vladivostok
--Condoleezza Rice, Mar. 17, 2008, at the Kremlin
--Condoleezza Rice, Oct. 21, 2006, at the Kremlin
--Colin Powell, Jan. 26, 2004, at the Kremlin
--Colin Powell, May 14, 2003, at the Kremlin
--Colin Powell, Dec. 10, 2001, at the Kremlin
--Madeleine Albright, Feb. 2, 2000, at the Kremlin
Medvedev also met with Secretary of State Clinton, twice – on March 19, 2010, at the Barvikha presidential residence outside Moscow, and on Oct. 13, 2009, at the same venue.