U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday put forth dueling narratives regarding Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, with the countries’ top diplomats contradicting one another during a chilly joint news conference at the State Department.
“On the question of interference in our domestic affairs, I was clear. It’s unacceptable, and I made our expectations of Russia clear,” Pompeo told reporters, summarizing his meeting with his Russian counterpart at the outset of the briefing.
“The Trump administration will always work to protect the integrity of our elections. Period,” Pompeo continued. “Should Russia or any foreign actor take steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response.”
But in his opening remarks, Lavrov lamented the “wave of suspicion that has overcome Washington” surrounding Russia’s role in the most recent White House race, which he asserted has “hindered” cooperation between President Vladimir Putin’s government and the United States.
“We have highlighted once again that all speculations about our alleged interference in domestic processes in the United States are baseless,” Lavrov said. “There are no facts that would support that. We did not see these facts. No one has given us this proof because it simply does not exist.”
Although the two officials have previously clashed on the issue of foreign interference in U.S. politics, their steely confrontation from behind lecterns Tuesday — less than a year away from the 2020 election — played out amid an impeachment battle involving withheld military assistance to Ukraine to counter Russian aggression.
Their remarks also came one day after the Justice Department inspector general made public his review of the FBI’s investigation into potential coordination between Trump associates and Russia during the 2016 campaign.
That federal probe ended with the release of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which concluded Russia’s government “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
On Tuesday, an American journalist asked Lavrov why he would not simply read Mueller’s findings, if the foreign minister was indeed eager for the U.S. government to produce more evidence of Russian meddling.
“Now as for meddling or non-meddling, you suggested to simply read the Mueller report. We read it. There is no proof of any collusion,” Lavrov replied.
Pompeo was similarly pressed by a Russian reporter on the potential publishing of correspondence between the White House and the Kremlin, which Lavrov has sought, from the months before and after the 2016 election.
“We’ll publish all the documents we think appropriate,” Pompeo responded. “We think we’ve 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.”