The timing of Trumps meeting with Russian officials raised eyebrows. As it turned out, what the president told them would cause the real storm

Donald Trumps entanglements with Russia date back to the 1980 s but the immediate origins of the most recent White House crisis lie in a journey secretary of state Rex Tillerson induced simply over a month ago to Moscow.

It was the first visit by a senior Trump administration official to the Russian capital and it was weighed down with luggage. Like his president, Tillerson was under scrutiny for his past ties to the Russian government.

As the CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson had extensive dealings with the Kremlin, in particular with regard to Vladimir Putin, who had personally awarded him Russias Order of Friendship. But since taking office, the expected reset with Moscow had failed to happen.

Sanctions had not been lifted, and six days before Tillerson arrived, on 6 April, the US had carried out a missile strike on a Syrian air base, suspected of being the launching pad for a chemical weapons assault, and where Russian troops were stationed.

As usual, the Kremlin left it until the last moment before confirming that Tillerson would be granted an audience with Putin, but the session which took place late in the day was described by the secretary of state as productive despite a low level of confidence between our two countries.

What that meeting did create was an ill-fated reciprocal visit by Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister to the White House, on 10 May. Lavrov had not been in Washington for four years, since before US-imposed sanctions for Russian annexation of Crimea and covert military action in eastern Ukraine.

A television screen inside the West Wing on 15 May, after the Washington Post reported the president had exposed highly classified information to Russias foreign minister and ambassador. Photo: Saul Loeb/ AFP/ Getty Images

It would have been normal for a Russian foreign minister to meet the US president. Lavrov had previously gratified Barack Obama at the White House. But these were not normal times. The night before, Trump had fired James Comey, the FBI director, at a time when the bureau was investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Having the first public session, within hours of such an extraordinary move, with a senior Russian official reflected a complete lack of concern of how it would look, irrespective of its substance. But US officials pointed to the Tillerson meeting in the Kremlin and the need for reciprocity. That did not explain, however, the presence of the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, who had become a central figure in the Russia investigation. His the relations with Trumps first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had ultimately led to Flynns resignation.

Flynns successor, HR McMaster, his deputy, Dina Powell, and Tillerson were also at the Oval Office meeting. US press were barred but not their Russian counterparts, it transpired. The Russian state agency Tass quickly posted images that have since become infamous, of Trump, Lavrov and Kislyak smiling and apparently sharing jokes, at a time when Russia had been accused by US intelligence of interfering in the US election, and a few days before the White House meeting the French presidential election too. White House officials would subsequently claim they had been misled by the Russian delegation and they did not know that Lavrovs official photographer was also working for Tass.

Trumps meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov( left) and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Photo: ddp USA/ REX/ Shutterstock

As soon as the pictures emerged, former intelligence officials raised concerns that Russians had been allowed into the Oval Office with electronic equipment, potentially building it vulnerable to bugs. As it turned out, it was what the president voluntarily shared with the Russians that would cause the real storm.

On Monday evening, the Washington Post reported that Trump had discussed highly secret information that had been provided by the intelligence agency of a US ally about an Islamic State( Isis) terrorist threat involving the use of laptop computer on aircraft.

For intelligence and counter-terrorist officials in the room, the disclosure instantly raised a bright red flag. The chairmen counter-terrorism consultant, Tom Bossert, quickly called the NSA and CIA to alert them, acting, McMaster said, out of an abundance of caution.

Both McMaster and Tillerson were sent out by the White House to rebut the report, insisting that the president did not discuss sources, techniques or military operations.

Reporters at the White House on Monday night, reported hearing heated arguments behind closed- door, as senior staff went into damage-control mode once more.

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