Congressional leaders won’t meet with him. Neither will the vice president or the White House chief of staff.
And the Russian ambassador says he is at his wit’s end.
In a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) earlier this month, Anatoly Antonov asked for help in obtaining meetings with a slew of U.S. lawmakers and officials. The March 9 letter was written two days after a POLITICO story detailed some of Antonov’s travails in securing meetings in Washington.
“I would be very grateful for your advice on how to develop contacts with members of U.S. Congress, departments and agencies, as well as for your possible assistance in setting up such meetings,” Antonov wrote in the letter, obtained by POLITICO.
Hatch has previously confirmed he met with Antonov, but a Hatch spokeswoman did not immediately reply for comment on this story. The Russian Embassy also did not reply. A White House spokesman declined comment.
Antonov went on to list 20 top U.S. elected and administration officials that have refused or ignored his requests for meetings. White House chief of staff John Kelly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Defense Department undersecretary of defense for policy John Rood are all listed as “officially” declining Antonov’s overtures.
“As I have told you during our meeting, I have to face difficulties in setting up contacts with U.S. high-ranking officials. A lot of meeting requests with the leadership of U.S. agencies and members of Congress were either left without a response, or simply refused under no pretext,” Antonov wrote in his letter to Hatch.
Antonov’s problems are likely to have gotten worse in recent days as the United States has joined other countries in expelling dozens of Russian diplomats and intelligence officers over the Kremlin’s suspected role in a nerve agent attack that has left a former Russian spy and his daughter seriously ill in Britain. On Thursday, Russia retaliated by expelling American diplomats.
The other administration officials listed as refusing to respond to Antonov include Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.
Sessions in particular has faced scrutiny for meeting with Antonov’s predecessor, Sergei Kislyak, during the presidential campaign. The Justice Department said that it does not currently have a record of a request for a meeting with Antonov.
A spokesperson for Pence confirmed he still has not met with the Russian ambassador.
Congressional leaders listed as not responding to Antonov include House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Antonov also said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce and Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry won’t respond to him.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and DNC Chairman Tom Perez also have ignored Antonov’s requests for a meeting, according to the list. McDaniel is listed twice on the letter as “Ronna McDaniel” and “Romnie McDaniel.”
Some senators have met with Antonov, including Hatch, Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
One congressional official said members of Congress should be more receptive to Antonov.
“While there is plenty we disagree with Russia on, it doesn’t do us any good to just blatantly ignore them. President Donald Trump is absolutely correct that we must engage with the Russian Federation, and members of Congress should stop their isolationist mentality,” the senior Republican aide said.
However, most members of Congress have harshly criticized Russia in recent months. McConnell has called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “thug” and gently rapped Trump for congratulating Putin on his reelection. Ryan has called Putin a “menace.”
“I would not have kind words to say if I were speaking with him,” Ryan said this month of Putin.
In his letter to Hatch, Antonov said he would keep at it despite the cold shoulder from Congress and some members of the administration. He said he has “sincere intent to establish friendly and partner relations between Russia and the U.S.”
Trump seems to agree, tweeting last week: “Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing.”