WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meeting with Russia’s top diplomat on Tuesday, said evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election was irrefutable and warned the U.S. would “take action” against any foreign actors attempting to interfere in American elections.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, meeting with Pompeo hours before attending a closed door session with President Donald Trump at the White House, dismissed as “baseless” the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that have indicated the Kremlin orchestrated a widespread social media campaign aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election.
Lavrov’s emphatic denial of Russian interference in the last presidential election came hours after House Democrats presented articles of impeachment against Trump, alleging the president solicited foreign interference in next year's election by urging Ukraine, a foe of Russia, to investigate potential Democratic political rival Joe Biden.
Pompeo, in a joint news conference with Lavrov, said: “On the question of interference in our domestic affairs, I was clear. It’s unacceptable, and I made our expectations of Russia clear.”
Lavrov called on the Trump Administration to allow the release of diplomatic correspondence between both countries in 2016 and 2017 that he said would clear Russia of wrongdoing.
“All speculation about our alleged interference in domestic processes of the United States is baseless,” Lavrov said. “No one has given us this proof because it simply does not exist.”
Pompeo countered that the U.S. has “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.”
A two-year investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller that concluded earlier this year found that Russia “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” through the use of social media campaigns and the hacking of Democratic campaign emails.
A Washington Post reporter asked Lavrov, “Why not just read the Mueller report” for the evidence against Russia.
Lavrov replied that he had read the 448-page report and deemed concluded, “there is no proof of any collusion.”
Pompeo said while the relationship between the U.S. and Russia is “complicated,” both sides were committed to improved relations. Pompeo and Lavrov said they were meeting to find common ground on an arms control and economic cooperation.
Lavrov's meeting later with Trump was their first since May 2017, when Trump reportedly divulged classified information to Lavrov about the Islamic State that jeopardized U.S. intelligence sources.
The White House in a statement released after their meeting Tuesday said Trump, “warned against any Russian attempts to interfere in United States elections.”
Trump, however, has embraced a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.
Trump, also “urged Russia to resolve the conflict with Ukraine” that centers on Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, the White House said.
“The President noted that a better relationship with Russia would allow increased trade between our countries,” The White House said in a statement.