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Fresh off firing FBI Director James Comey, who spent too much time worrying about the completely fake Trump-Russia scandal, Donald Trump met in the Oval Office Wednesday with Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Yes, the same Sergey Kislyak with whom half the Trump campaign had undisclosed contacts. American reporters were excluded from the meeting, which was covered by Russian state media instead, because Trump has already decided he has transcended optics, norms, and all standards of normality. For all we know, he and the Russians may have kicked around the idea of shooting someone on Fifth Avenue just to see how that worked out.

The visit wasn’t the first time Lavrov has been in the Oval Office — he dropped by for a chat with Barack Obama in 2013, but wasn’t invited back after Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, which for some reason Obama and lots of other people who are neither Russian nor Donald Trump think was a bad thing. Fortunately, Politico’s Susan Glasser informs us, all Vladimir Putin had to do was ask, and the Oval Office was open to Russia once more:

“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.”

Just to make clear who’s important and who isn’t, shortly before meeting Trump, Lavrov laughed off questions about whether the Comey firing had cast a shadow on the talks. Posing for photos with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Lavrov deadpanned, “Was he fired? You’re kidding. You’re kidding!” There’s that famous Lavrov wit, which might even be called “Kennedyesque” had the joke actually been funny.

All in all, the session was a big win for Russia, although the exclusion of American journos for the Russian A.V. Club did raise a certain bit of fuss, even from rightwing voices like former Rep. Joe Walsh, who took a brief moment away from bashing Muslims and poor people to condemn Trump’s Russian-only press pool as “bullshit.” (Don’t worry; he was back to Trump-fluffing today, praising Trump for his ability to “wig out the media every single day.”) A White House official is now claiming Team Trump had no idea the photos of the meeting would be published by the state news agency TASS, because why would they ever circulate the photos they were taking? Perhaps the Trumpers assumed the pics would only show up in Russia, because they have never heard of this “Internet” thing. CNN’s Jim Acosta reports the official said the White House is “furious” over the photos:

That, or Trump is noticing how good a friendly press can make him look — he may just replace the American press with the Russians from now on.

And then there’s the question of whether inviting Russian media into the Oval Office was such a great idea from a security standpoint; “former U.S. intelligence officials” told the Washington Post it was possible the photographer and crew might have brought in “a listening device or other surveillance equipment could have been brought into the Oval Office while hidden in cameras or other electronics.” Which, given Trump’s friendliness with the Russians, seems almost redundant, but we can see the concern. But hey, with an open line all the time, who needs a hotline? For its part, the White House said Nah, mang, it’s no big, since

the photographer and his equipment were subjected to a security screening before he and it entered the White House grounds. The Russian “had to go through the same screening as a member of the U.S. press going through the main gate to the [White House] briefing room,” a senior administration official said.

Well that makes us feel all kinds of better, knowing that the Russian reporter was subject to the same strict vetting as American “reporters” like The Stupidest Man on the Internet, the Pizzagate guy, and the guy who’s certain France’s new president is a mind-controlled zombie. (More so than usual.)

Make sure you read Glasser’s excellent, thoughtful piece on Lavrov and his skills at manipulating weak-minded American presidents whose names start with Donald Trump. Even though many American diplomats don’t like him — one top Bush official flatly said, “He’s a complete asshole” — Lavrov knows all it really takes to impress Trump is to call him smart, so the Russians won’t need more than some flattery and puppy biscuits to ensure his continued loyalty. Trump doesn’t have a foreign policy, so Lavrov will be happy to provide one, and having an open door at the White House will certainly cut down on having to send disreputable flunkies like Michael Flynn off to “secret” meetings that U.S. and allied intelligence agencies find out about anyway. And if any of the adults in the room try to constrain Trump, that’s easily taken care of — as with Preet Bharara, Comey, and Sally Yates, the insane little magical boy in the big chair can wish them into the cornfield, and everyone around him will smile and tell him what a great job he’s doing.

Everyone’s smiling, as long, of course, as you’re not a U.S. ally:

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[Politico / WaPo / NYT]

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