By BRIDGET BOWMAN and JOHN T. BENNETT, CQ ROLL CALL
President Donald Trump took to Twitter to once again criticize Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, this time calling for an investigation over Schumer’s “ties to Russia” and Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing a 14-year old photo of Schumer and Putin eating doughnuts together.
Trump tweeted an image Friday of Schumer and Putin drinking coffee together, which appeared to be lifted from stories circulating on right-leaning websites. The image is from Putin’s visit to the U.S. in 2003, when he and Schumer toured a gas station and ate doughnuts and drank coffee.
Schumer responded with his own tweet, saying, “Happily talk re: my contact w Mr. Putin & his associates, took place in ’03 in full view of press & public under oath. Would you &your team?”
Happily talk re: my contact w Mr. Putin & his associates, took place in ’03 in full view of press & public under oath. Would you &your team? https://t.co/yXgw3U8tmQ
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 3, 2017
Putin was in the country at that time to visit with President George W. Bush at Camp David. But he stopped by New York City to attend the opening of a new Lukoil gas station.
According to the Associated Press report of the visit, Lukoil had acquired roughly 1,300 gas stations previously run by Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. Putin was at the gas station for about 10 minutes for the coffee and doughnut moment. The two ate Krispy Kreme doughnuts, according to Schumer.
The Twitter back-and-forth comes after Schumer reiterated calls for an independent investigation into contacts between Russian officials and the Trump team during the 2016 presidential campaign. Intelligence officials have concluded that Russia was attempting to interfere with the election to sway the results in Trump’s favor.
Attorney General Jeff Sessionsrecused himself Thursday from any Justice Department probe into the Trump campaign following reports that Sessions met with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in September when he was a senator. Sessions was an early and ardent Trump supporter, and chaired the campaign’s national security advisory committee.
Sessions said he met with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his official capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee. Sessions also reportedly met with Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in July at an event with other ambassadors.
Shortly before Trump fired off his tweet about Schumer Friday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders raised questions about the minority leader’s contact with Putin.
Sanders questioned why Sessions “bumping into” the Russian diplomat at last year’s GOP convention constitutes news because “dozens” of other ambassadors were also there. Then she referred to Schumer socializing with Putin.
“I mean, Chuck Schumer is sitting having drinks with Putin, but that’s not a news story,” she told reporters aboard Air Force One. “But apparently a volunteer for a campaign bumping into [Kislyak] at a conference where there’s dozen of other ambassadors [is].”
Trump tweeted the image mere minutes after Sanders ended the question-and-answer session.
But before she did, Sanders said Sessions’ meeting with Kislayak in his Senate office was in an “official capacity,” but “not as a campaign official.”
“So to try and muddy the waters in that way,” she said, “I think is pretty unfair.”