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11 May, 2017 07:55

US media pushes conspiracy theory, decries ‘exclusion’ from Trump-Lavrov meeting

In response to US media hysteria over Russian outlets obtaining photos of Donald Trump’s closed-door meeting with Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, the White House says both a Russian and an American photojournalist were present.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with US President Donald Trump was widely anticipated by the media, and while it happened behind closed doors, it was the Russian Foreign Ministry that first publicized Lavrov’s visit to the Oval Office to the world.

What made the photo shoot even more intriguing was the attendance of Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak – a key figure in the investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.

After the pictures taken by a TASS correspondent became public, American journalists were quick to look for conspiracy theories.

NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who Lavrov last month scolded for her manners, appeared on MSNBC to criticize TASS’ presence at the Oval Office.

“The Russians had it all out globally while the White House press corps was kept out,” Mitchell said. “It’s unprecedented.”

Other journalists voiced their concern on Twitter, saying that they suddenly became reliant on Russian news outlets for pictures from the American president’s meeting. 

The Washington Post cited US intelligence and White House officials who hinted that TASS' visit to the office was a potential security breach. The officials feared that the TASS correspondent could have planted a spying device in the presidential office.

The photos of the clandestine Lavrov-Trump-Kislyak meeting were taken by TASS photographer Alexander Shcherbak. The photos were then distributed by the Associated Press, which credits the Russian Foreign Ministry as the source, and then Getty Images, which credits TASS.

As speculation over the TASS images gathered momentum, the White House responded, saying one Russian and one American photographer captured the historic encounter.

"On background, our official photographer and their official photographer were present, that's it," the White House said, according to a pool report, USA Today notes.

Meanwhile, a senior administration official dismissed fears that TASS planted a bug in the Oval office.

The Russian news agency “had to go through the same screening as a member of the US press going through the main gate to the [White House] briefing room,” the official told the Washington Post.

Another official also dismissed any speculation that Ambassador Kislyak was there to recruit Trump.

“It is standard practice for ambassadors to accompany their principals, and it is ridiculous to suggest there was anything improper,” the administration official told the Washington Post, adding that the White House rooms “are swept routinely” for listening devices.