It's an otherwise unremarkable image of the photo-op variety, showing President Trump shaking hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday. But it's causing a fuss because of how it came to be. The meeting was closed to the media, but Russia's state-owned TASS news agency posted photos of the get-together soon after it ended. TASS also distributed them to the AP, reports USA Today. That surprised White House officials, who thought only official government photographers were supposed to be present, and had members of the US press corps questioning why they were shut out while the Russian media was allowed in. The explanation is that Russia apparently doesn't make a distinction between an official government photographer and a Tass photographer.
"We were not informed by the Russians that their official photographer was dual-hatted and would be releasing the photographs on the state news agency," a White House official tells the Washington Post. The newspaper talks to former intelligence officials who see allowing a fully equipped TASS photographer into the Oval Office as a security risk, given the possibility of him planting a bug of some sort. It notes an exchange on Twitter in which former deputy CIA director David Cohen was asked whether it was wise and he responded succinctly, "No it was not." Politico adds some context, noting that former President Obama's White House took flak for closing meetings to the press and releasing "official" photos later—a practice the White House Correspondents’ Association likened to the "White House’s own Soviet-style news service." (Lavrov had an unusual reaction to James Comey's firing earlier in the day.)