Russian photographer on White House outrage: 'This is nonsense'

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Story highlights

  • Photographer urges US journalists "not to lose their professional dignity"
  • Former officials -- and spies -- questioned the security arrangements

(CNN)The Russian photographer invited to shoot a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reacted to outrage from media outlets and the administration, saying: "Honestly, this is nonsense to me."

Alexandr Scherbak, who shot the meeting for Russian state news agency TASS, posted a lengthy message on Facebook urging US journalists "not to lose their professional dignity."
The White House blocked US reporters from photographing the meeting, opting to allow only White House and a sole Russian photographer to capture images of the leaders' interactions.
Scherbak said his post -- addressed to US media -- was prompted by "this hysteria around my photo shoot at the White House." Outlets from the New York Times to Newsweek and Quartz reported the perceived snub to US-based media.
He further asked US media "not to pin the blame on other people for their failure in organizing the photo shoot and the failure to provide access to their media."
His post was re-posted by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

'This Russia thing'

The meeting came one day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey with a letter that said it was "essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence."
Critics allege the decision had more to do with the investigation Comey was leading into whether members of Trump's campaign team colluded with Russia in its interference in the 2016 election.
Trump seemed to add some credence to the claim when he said during an interview with NBC Thursday that he considered "this Russia thing" before Comey's firing.
Trump said "when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said 'you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won'."
Meeting Lavrov the next day was considered a questionable move, and it has been suggested it wasn't one the White House wanted to publicize.
After the meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry posted a photo of a smiling US President shaking hands with Lavrov on Twitter, along with video of Lavrov joking about Comey's firing.
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Out in the cold

Reporters weren't allowed into the meeting, and the only images that emerged came from Russian government accounts, while Scherbak's images appeared in Russian state media and its social media accounts.
White House officials had allowed Scherbak, described by the delegation as Lavrov's photographer, to record the meeting, claiming they didn't know he also works for TASS.
"They tricked us," an angry White House official said.
"That's the problem with the Russians -- they lie," the official added.
"So: Russian state media had an exclusive on the Oval Office meeting from which American journalists had been barred," CNN commentator Frida Ghitis wrote.
A White House official said the administration did not anticipate that the Russian government would allow its state news agency to post photographs of the meeting.
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Security concern

Given the alleged subterfuge, various former officials and experts chimed in with questions on the wisdom of letting the photographer and his equipment into the Oval Office.
"Deadly serious (question): Was it a good idea to let a Russian gov photographer & all their equipment into the Oval Office?" asked Colin Kahl, a former Obama White House staffer and National Security adviser to former Vice-President Joe Biden.
Former Deputy Director of CIA David Cohen replied to the tweet, "No, it was not."
In his post, Scherbak said that he had undergone all White House security checks.
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"I was taken by a US representative to the White House. I was scanned, patted down, and then sniffed by canines," he wrote.
Former KGB spy Jack Barsky said that White House security was breached "to some extent."
"I'm shaking my head at the incompetence of the Trump staff who are supposed to protect the integrity of the White House," he said.
"American presidents have underestimated, historically, the cleverness of the Russians."
CORRECTION: The headline on this article has been updated to clarify that the reaction to outrage from the White House originated from Russian photographer Alexandr Scherbak.