Trump to discuss 'election security' with Russian official in private meeting

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Trump has long ignored the U.S. intelligence community consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Donald Trump is set to discuss election security on Tuesday in a closed-door meeting with the foreign minister of the country that interfered to help him win the 2016 election.

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley made the announcement on Fox Business Tuesday morning, saying that Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would meet to discuss election security and other issues inside the Oval Office.

The meeting will be closed to the press.

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"The president talked about and campaigned about having a better relationship with Russia," Gidley said. "So did the Democrats, for that matter."

"It's incumbent upon any American president to try and build relationships across the globe," he continued. "We're absolutely expect[ing] to talk about arms control, but also election security, for example, and national security, for example."

The first time Trump met with Lavrov, back in May 2017, Trump bragged about firing former FBI Director James Comey one day earlier, saying doing so had relieved "great pressure" on him.

Comey had been investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia during the 2016 election prior to being ousted. His dismissal eventually led to special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment and the nearly two-year-long Russia probe, which resulted in a 400-plus page final report this past spring.

That report detailed extensive ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as at least 10 instances of possible obstruction by Trump himself.

The closed-door meeting with Lavrov comes on the same day House Democrats released two articles of impeachment against Trump.

One article of impeachment notes that Trump "corruptly solicited the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations" into both "a political opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden," and "a discredited theory promoted by Russia alleging that Ukraine — rather than Russia — interfered in the 2016 United States Presidential election."

Despite the unanimous agreement of U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump and some Republicans continue to peddle a far-right conspiracy defending Russia by falsely alleging Ukraine interfered in the election.

During one public impeachment hearing last month, Fiona Hill, a Russia expert who previously served on the White House National Security Council, declared that the Ukraine conspiracy was "a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."

Lavrov himself claimed on Tuesday afternoon, in a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, there were "no facts that would support" allegations of Russian interference in 2016.

"...All speculation about our alleged interference in domestic processes in the United States [is] baseless," he claimed. "...No one has given us this proof because it simply does not exist."

Hill's declaration came more than a year after Trump stood onstage with Russian President Vladimir Putin and sided with Putin against the American intelligence community on the issue of election interference.

Trump's evidence-free adherence to that debunked conspiracy theory now lies at the heart of the impeachment investigation.

Trump has also publicly welcomed additional interference in the 2020 election, stating in a June interview with ABC news that he would gladly foreign foreign dirt on any of his political rivals.

"I think you might want to listen. There isn't anything wrong with listening," he said. "If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] 'we have information on your opponent,' oh, I think I'd want to hear it."

Trump added that he did not consider accepting dirt on his opponents "an interference."

Accepting or soliciting election assistance from foreign nationals is against the law, according to the Federal Election Commission.

About a month after announcing he would accept foreign election interference, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a now-infamous phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Trump specifically asked Zelenskiy for a "favor," to launch investigations into both Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

Multiple impeachment witnesses have since testified that Trump withheld critical military aid to Ukraine and leveraged a coveted White House meeting in order to secure such investigations.

Trump claims his requests were all above board because they were focused on election security and corruption more broadly.


UPDATE: In separate statements Tuesday evening, the White House and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov disagreed about whether the two parties spoke about election security during Lavrov's Oval Office meeting with Trump earlier in the day.

"President Trump warned against any Russian attempts to interfere in United States elections and urged Russia to resolve the conflict with Ukraine," the White House said in an official readout it sent to reporters.

Trump himself tweeted that he'd "had a very good meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and representatives of Russia" and that they had "discussed many items including Trade, Iran, North Korea, INF Treaty, Nuclear Arms Control, and Election Meddling."

However, speaking with reporters at the Russian Embassy in Washington later, Lavrov claimed, "We haven't even actually discussed elections."

According to Politico, "when pressed again, Lavrov — speaking via an interpreter — appeared to indicate that he’d raised Pompeo‘s earlier remarks with Trump."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.