Susan Glasser writes: When President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded the Russians, he was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, And indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”
The meeting was Lavrov’s first in the White House since 2013—and came after several years of the Obama administration’s flat-out refusal to grant him an Oval Office audience, two former senior White House officials told me. “The Russians were begging us for years to do that,” one of the former officials said. “They were constantly pushing for it and we were constantly saying no.”
The images of Trump putting his arm genially on Lavrov’s back—and a later White House official readout of the meeting that said Trump “emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia”—couldn’t have come at a more fraught political moment for Trump, amid a barrage of bipartisan criticism of his firing of FBI director James Comey. On Wednesday morning before meeting with Trump, Lavrov even cracked a joke about his hosts’ political predicament, laughingly claiming not to have heard of the Comey firing while standing alongside Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In other words, Lavrov was right where he has always wanted to be Wednesday: mocking the United States while being welcomed in the Oval Office by the president himself. [Continue reading…]