(CN) — President Donald Trump welcomed Vladimir Putin’s top diplomat to the White House on Wednesday, marking the president’s highest level face-to-face contact with a Russian government official since he took office in January.
The meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak came with official Washington still reeling in the wake of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, who had been overseeing an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
As the meeting got underway, reporters in Soschi, Russia, where Putin was playing ice hockey, asked what he thought of Comey’s firing.
“It’s an internal U.S. matter,” the Russian president said.
A reporter was then asked how the firing and the controversy swirling around it will affect US-Russian relations.
“It will have no affect,” Putin said through an interpreter. “We have nothing to do with it.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted a photo of Trump and Lavrov shaking hands in the Oval Office, and another of Trump and Kislyak.
The White House called reporters into the Oval Office around the time of the meeting, but Lavrov and Kislyak had already left.
Jordan Fabion, the White House correspondent for The Hill, said he asked why the press corp wasn’t ushered into the meeting while the Russians were still present.
A number of reporters who regularly cover the WHite House were miffed, particularly after TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency, published photos from the meeting.
Fabion reported that an official said, “On background, our official photographer and their official photographer were present, that’s it.”
In a surprise, Trump greeted the media with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose presence wasn’t included in the daily schedule the White House sends out to the press.
Earlier Wednesday, Lavrov met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the get-together was a chance for the two to “continue our dialogue” and “exchange of views” that they started last month in Moscow.
During that trip, Tillerson said relations with Russia were at a low and needed to be rebuilt.
Putin asked Trump to meet with Lavrov when the two leaders spoke by phone last week, according to a person with knowledge of the call.
The person insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the private conversation.
During his appearance with Tillerson, Lavrov feigned surprise when asked whether Comey’s firing as FBI director cast a shadow over the U.S.-Russia talks.
“Was he fired? You’re kidding. You’re kidding,” Lavrov told reporters sarcastically before waving his hand dismissively and leaving the room.
Tillerson ignored questions about Trump and Comey.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.