President Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both described news reports of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials as a "witch hunt."
Lavrov made his comments during a press conference in Moscow on March 3 while denying that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak is a spy, notes CNN: "The ambassadors are appointed in order to maintain relationships. They are maintained by holding meetings, talks and establishing contacts with officials from both executive and legislative branches of power. I can only quote what the media said today -- this all looks like a witch hunt."
On March 2, Trump responded to news reports of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions misleading his Senate confirmation hearing by denying meetings with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign when Sessions had two meetings with Kislyak; Sessions was a strong supporter of Trump at the time.
In his statement, Trump blamed the Democrats for the news reports:
This whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win. The Democrats are overplaying their hand. They lost the election and now, they have lost their grip on reality. The real story is all of the illegal leaks of classified and other information. It is a total witch hunt!
On March 2, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called news reports about conversations between Sessions and Kislyak "shameful," an "attempt at total misinformation," and a type of "vandalism."
CNN notes that former and current senior U.S. government officials have said Kislyak is considered to be a spy by U.S. intelligence, an allegation that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied during a conference call with journalists:
Nobody has heard a single statement from US intelligence agencies' representatives regarding our ambassador. Again, these are some depersonalized assumptions of the media that are constantly trying to blow this situation out of proportion...
This emotional atmosphere builds up a certain resistance to the idea of developing a relationship with Russia. That's true. The negative effect is obvious here.
Ret. Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a military analyst for Fox News, warned viewers on March 3 that the Trump administration's alleged ties with Russia could actually bring down the White House, reports RawStory.com:
One after another, Trump has had to dismiss aides and advisers for ties to Russia: Paul Manafort, various of others early on, of course, Michael Flynn, and we now know there were dozens of meetings between Trump campaign officials and advisors, and various Russians. That is not business as usual...
And the president needs to realize that it's not going to go away. It's either going to continue grind on and bleed the administration, or it's going to just blow up. So, he could get ahead of it by doing two things. Denounce Vladimir Putin and disavow any notion of a lunatic alliance with Russia. And, sorry, he has got to release the tax returns to show that the Russians have no financial leverage over him.
The Trump administration has promise in many spheres. But this scandal, and it is a scandal, could bring down the administration, if the administration doesn’t get ahead of it. They cannot keep letting this slow drip-drip of blood.