WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) - Russia's foreign minister sarcastically acknowledged the abrupt dismissal of FBI director James Comey by saying 'Was he fired? You're kidding. You're kidding' as he posed on Wednesday for photographs with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
President Donald Trump stunned Washington on Tuesday with his decision to fire Comey, whose agency is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the possibility Trump associates may have colluded with Moscow.
The move provoked a storm of criticism among Democrats who said Trump was trying to blunt the FBI probe, and some of the president's fellow Republicans also questioned the timing of the ouster. White House officials denied any political motive in the move by Trump, who took office on Jan. 20.
RELATED: Reaction to Trump's firing of James Comey
Reaction to Trump's firing of James Comey
Reaction to Trump's firing of James Comey
But does anyone seriously believe @realDonaldTrump fired the top person investigating his ties to Russia because he was unfair to Hillary?
Trump firing Comey shows how frightened the Admin is over Russia investigation
Gov. John Kasich statement on James Comey https://t.co/Wrwj6sGqnz
Removal of Director Comey only confirms need for select cmte to investigate #Russia's interference in 2016 election https://t.co/LfKlwSw6iQ
EVERYONE who cares about independence & rule of law in America should be "troubled by the timing and reasoning" of… https://t.co/NZY4qh3uiz
This is Nixonian. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special prosecutor to continue the Trump/Russia investigation.
Firing of Comey tainted by extraordinary conflict of interest. Independent prosecutor must be appointed to restore… https://t.co/lXBIJtTf18
First Pres Trump fired Sally Yates, then Preet Bharara. Now #Comey. Doesn't seem like an accident. We must have a special prosecutor.
If we don't get a special prosecutor, every American will rightfully suspect that the decision to fire #Comey was part of a cover-up.
We are in a full-fledged constitutional crisis.
Comey's fired, which means Trump must be one of the few people in DC that the FBI doesn't have something on.
My statement on James Comey https://t.co/NWBR8FGTCf
Elijah Cummings is calling for "immediate emergency hearings". https://t.co/iMsNmdPmHi
LEAHY: "This is nothing less than Nixonian." https://t.co/n4R4fWSgib
Sen. John McCain on Comey firing: "I regret that that took place. The president does have that authority, so I resp… https://t.co/pSEu3XXsj5
Statement on FBI Director Comey ➡ https://t.co/vB822Nw5OR
This should not be sugar coated. Firing Comey is up there in terms of the scariest things Trump has done.
I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.
My staff and I are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia. The second paragraph of… https://t.co/qcm1PiFkNG
Ds were against Comey before they were for him.
U.S. Senator Susan Collins’ Statement on Director Comey
Firing Comey has the foul stench of an attempt to stop an ongoing investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Tillerson at the State Department before he was to head to the White House for talks with Trump.
Asked by a reporter if Comey's dismissal would cast a shadow over his talks with Tillerson, Lavrov acknowledged the elephant in the room by replying in a sarcastic tone: "Was he fired? You're kidding. You're kidding."
Tillerson made no reference to Comey as he and Lavrov shook hands and posed for photographs.
"I want to welcome Foreign Minister Lavrov to the State Department and express my appreciation for him making the trip to Washington so that we could continue our dialog and our exchange of views that began in Moscow with the dialog he hosted on a very broad range of topics," he said.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said on Wednesday it hoped that Comey's firing would not affect Russia's ties with the United States, saying it believed his dismissal had nothing to do with Russia.
During a visit to Moscow in April Tillerson met both Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin and described the low level of trust between the two nations, who have sharp differences over Syria, Ukraine and a host of other matters.
"The world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship," Tillerson said at the time.
Trump repeatedly said during his presidential campaign that he would seek closer ties with Russia. (Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Frances Kerry)
RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.
R. James Woolsey
Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil.
(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.
Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.