A Friday New York Times profile of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, illuminates the longtime diplomat as not only socially savvy and eager to network, but also unwavering in his dedication to his home country and its president, Vladimir Putin.
Peter Baker, the New York Times’ chief White House correspondent and co-author of the profile, joined Yahoo News Now on Friday to discuss Kislyak, who has been in the spotlight following revelations of his communications with various members of the Trump campaign and administration.
Both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn have come under withering criticism for not disclosing their conversations with Kislyak.
Flynn was forced to resign last month when it was revealed that he and Kislyak had discussed the United States’ sanctions against Russia and that Flynn had later misled Vice President Mike Pence about doing so. Pence had publicly denied that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed the latest round of U.S. sanctions, which had been leveled by former President Barack Obama in response to Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. election.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Sessions met with Kislyak twice during the campaign, when he was an informal Trump adviser and campaigned on the celebrity businessman’s behalf. Sessions had indicated under oath during his confirmation hearing that he had had no such communications with Russian officials.
That revelation prompted a wave of Democrats to demand Sessions’ resignation. Even a number of Republicans called on the attorney general to recuse himself from the government’s investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 race.
Under fire, Sessions held a Thursday press conference announcing that he would recuse himself from any investigation involving the Trump campaign. He said he could not recall any “specific political discussions” with Kislyak.
Baker, who has met Kislyak, said the ambassador was likely trying to establish relationships with potential power players if Trump were to be elected. In other words, Baker said, “he wanted more than gossip.”
As for why Russia seemed to focus more on team Trump, Baker said that Clinton and her team were a known quantity and Putin was already prepared to deal with them in the White House. From the Clinton campaign’s perspective, Baker pointed out, any meetings with Russian officials would have run counter to their campaign platform.
“They dealt with her when she was secretary of state for four years; they obviously knew her when she was a senator and first lady,” Baker said. “So one thing for any Russian diplomat and Russian government, at this point, would have been to understand the player they didn’t know as well, presumably, and that would have been Donald Trump.”
He continued, “Hillary Clinton had no interest in meetings with the Russians at that point. She was running, in part, on a platform of being tougher on Putin and tougher on Russia than Trump was, so it wouldn’t have been in her political interest to take a lot of meetings.”
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