Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov laughs off FBI head James Comey's dismissal

  • 11/05/2017

US President Donald Trump has discussed the Syrian civil with Russia's Foreign Minister in the Oval Office at a time when alleged ties to Moscow are overshadowing the Republican's administration.

The meeting with Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday was the highest-level public contact between Trump and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin since Trump took office on January 20.

Mr Trump stunned the United States on Tuesday by firing FBI director James Comey, whose agency is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and the possibility Trump associates may have colluded with Moscow. Russia denies the allegations.

"We had a very, very good meeting with Mr Lavrov," Mr Trump told reporters after the talks. "We want to see the killing, the horrible killing, stopped in Syria as soon as possible and everyone is working toward that end."

Russia backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war. Mr Trump said during his election campaign that he sought closer ties with Russia, but tensions grew after US air strikes against a Syrian airfield in April in response to a chemical weapons attack that Washington blamed on Assad.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Lavrov met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As the pair posed for photographs, Mr Lavrov sarcastically acknowledged the abrupt dismissal of Mr Comey.

Asked by a reporter if the firing would cast a shadow over his talks, Mr Lavrov replied in a sarcastic tone: "Was he fired? You're kidding. You're kidding."

Comey's replacement

Mr Trump is considering four senior FBI officials to serve as the interim replacement for Mr Comey, a White House official has said.

The four candidates include acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, assistant FBI director in charge Paul Abbate, Chicago special agent in charge Michael J Anderson and Richmond special agent in charge Adam Lee, the official said.

The official said the Justice Department is running the process with job interviews being conducted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the New York Times reported Comey had requested additional funding and personnel for the agency's probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election just days before he was fired.

Mr Comey had asked Rosenstein last week for a significant boost in resources and later briefed US lawmakers on the request, the Times said, citing three unnamed officials.

Trump goes on the defensive

Mr Trump has defended his firing of Mr Comey, fighting a storm of criticism that the ousting was aimed at blunting an agency probe into his presidential campaign's possible collusion with Russia to sway the 2016 election.

The Republican President's abrupt move on Tuesday stunned Washington and was swiftly condemned by Democrats and by some in his own party.

"Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me," Mr Trump said in a series of posts on Twitter on Wednesday morning.

The Trump administration said on Tuesday the firing was over Mr Comey's handling of an election-year FBI probe into then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

Though many Democrats have criticised Comey's management of the Clinton probe, they said they were troubled by the timing of his dismissal, given that Mr Trump could have acted soon after taking office and has repeatedly criticised the FBI and congressional probes into Russian involvement in the election.

Asked if Mr Trump had fired Mr Comey over his handling of the Russia investigation, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said no.

"Frankly, if that's going to continue, it's going to continue whether Jim Comey is there or not," she told MSNBC in an interview.

Democrats, however, only amplified their calls for an independent investigation into Moscow's role in the election.

"What we have now is really a looming constitutional crisis that is deadly serious," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told CNN.

Some Republicans have also said they were troubled by the timing of Mr Comey's firing, including Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That is one of several congressional panels investigating Russian interference during the election and possible collusion by Trump campaign staff.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said any new investigation would only impede those already under way.

"Today we'll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation which could only serve to impede the current work being done," he said on the floor, in response to Democratic calls for a special prosecutor.

Reuters / Newshub.