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Russia Foreign Minister Disputes Trump Statement that He Told Him Not to Interfere in Elections

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Russia Foreign Minister Disputes Trump Statement that He Told Him Not to Interfere in Elections

2019-12-11 12:51:531 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Sergei Lavrov (Image source: Screenshot)

It was very hard not to notice the strange timing on Tuesday and wonder if it was irony or strategy when Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo entertained Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Washington on the same day House Democrats were announcing the two articles of impeachment against the president.

The two articles of impeachment are abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The abuse charge covers Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky when he asked him to conduct an investigation of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter as well as the conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and hacked the DNC emails, not Russia. Former special counsel Robert Mueller's final report and congressional investigations and U.S. intelligence have proven Russian interference. 

After Trump met with Lavrov, he claims he warned him not to interfere in United States elections and suggested that Ukraine and Russia need to resolve their conflict, according to the White House. Yet later on Tuesday at the Russian Embassy, Lavrov said it was Pompeo he talked about interference with and not Trump.

During the Lavrov-Pompeo meeting, the two disagreed about the Russian interference in 2016. Pompeo said that it was "unacceptable." 

Trump later posted a picture of himself smiling in the Oval Office, accompanied by Lavrov, similar to one of him doing the same with Lavrov and a group of Russian diplomats in 2017.

"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," he captioned this year's picture. 

The president has repeatedly denied that Russia interfered in 2016 to help him win and hurt the chances of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton winning while recently promoting the conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine that interfered to help Clinton.

Lavrov's visit to Washington came one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelensky met in Paris, agreeing to a "full and comprehensive" cease-fire by the end of the year in their conflict. The U.S. had backed Ukraine in the conflict, but after the relationship between the two nations was weakened following the impeachment inquiry into the phone call between Zelensky and Trump, the Ukrainian president turned Russia. 

Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow during the Obama administration, said he hoped the "horrible symbolism" of Lavrov being invited to Washington on the same day the articles of impeachment were announced was "just a mistake and not on purpose."

When Trump spoke to reporters as he left the White House for a political rally in Pennsylvania on Tuesday evening, he did not respond to questions about his meeting with Lavrov. 

During a news conference at the State Department between Pompeo and Lavrov, both stated that they supported improved relations between their two countries, despite the disagreement between the two on various issues.

Pompeo said the relationship between the two countries is "complicated" and that they discussed arms control while also making progress on "economic" cooperation that will be announced "before too terribly long." 

The secretary of state also said he told Lavrov that the U.S. will not tolerate Russia interfering in U.S. elections. "I was clear — it's unacceptable," he said.

In return, Lavrov said Russia demands evidence that Russia interfered in elections, but when a reporter asked why he doesn't just "read the Mueller report," he dismissed the idea. "We read it. There is no proof of any collusion," he said. 

"We think we've shared plenty of facts to show what happened in the 2016 election with our Russian counterparts. We don't think there's any mistake about what really transpired there," he said.

"President Trump welcomed continued engagement with Russia to address areas of mutual concern, including how the United States and Russia can take positive steps with respect to detained citizens," said the White House.  

Asked if the visit looked bad on the same day the articles of impeachment were released, White House spokesman Hogan Gridley told Fox Business that the Russia-U.S. dialog is "critical to America's well-being." He added that Trump "talked about and campaigned about having a better relationship with Russia. So did the Democrats, for that matter. It's incumbent on any American president to build better relationships across the globe."

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