Talks with Russian diplomat follow swiftly
US President Donald Trump defied a storm of criticism yesterday over his firing of FBI director James Comey, inviting Russia’s foreign minister to the White House even as Democrats demanded an independent probe of Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US elections.
Trump’s decision to terminate Comey on Tuesday effective immediately drew comparisons with the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, and stunned Washington.
“James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI,” Trump tweeted.
“Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!”
Under Comey, the FBI was investigating whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russia in an attempt to sway the US election in the Republican’s favour.
Trump said he was acting on recommendations of his attorney-general and deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein, who accused Comey of serious mistakes in his handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail.
The FBI director had antagonised all sides – first angering Republicans by closing the e-mail probe against the Democratic candidate and then Democrats by reopening it days before the November presidential election.
But Democrats – and some Republicans — saw the move to get rid of Comey as an assault on the FBI’s Russia probe and demanded that it be turned over to an independent special prosecutor or commission.
“This is nothing less than Nixonian,” Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont charged.
Hours after the firing, the White House announced that Trump would be meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“Just as we do, the Americans need this meeting,” Lavrov told Russian television.
Lavrov, who has not set foot in Washington since 2013, is the most senior Russian official to meet Trump since he took office in January.
Despite Trump’s admiring comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin during the presidential campaign, relations between the two powers remain at a low point.
Lavrov first met US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday, before he was to head to the White House to meet Trump.
The uproar over Comey’s sacking seemed certain to complicate Lavrov’s mission in search of US support for a Russian plan to create safe zones in war-torn Syria.
And in Moscow yesterday, Putin met with his security council to discuss US-Russian relations in the context of Lavrov’s meeting with Trump, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Tillerson and Lavrov will meet again today in Fairbanks, Alaska, for the Arctic Council meeting, an intergovernmental forum for cooperation on the environment, oil and mining, shipping, fisheries and tourism.