During a press briefing the day after James Comey was fired as FBI director by President Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the White House press corps she is "not aware" if the president brought up reports of persecution of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya when Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Wednesday.
The question came from Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson, who asked, "The statement today on the president's meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov did not include anything on the reported incidents of violence in Chechnya against people in the LGBTQ community. Is the reason why that was not included in the readout because the president is not informed on the issue?"
"A lot of times there are parts of the conversation that aren't specifically included in a readout," responded Sanders, the principal deputy White House press secretary. "Um, but, I'm not aware, I have not had that conversation. So I do not know, I was not part of that meeting. So I cannot speak to every detail and I would have to refer you to the readout on the specifics of what I know was discussed."
GLAAD criticized the White House staff for not briefing Trump on Chechnya. “It is shocking that the White House can’t even confirm if President Trump is ‘aware’ of the anti-LGBTQ violence in Chechnya. It seems President Trump is only aware of news that includes his own name,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. “If President Trump doesn’t join Ambassador [Nikki] Haley and other world leaders in condemning this humanitarian crisis, it is only further evidence that his Administration is working to force LGBTQ people around the globe back into the closet.”
President Trump has yet to publicly address the Chechnya reports, but several other leaders have spoken out against the attack on human rights, such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Former Vice President Joe Biden called on the Trump administration to take action and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said something must be done to protect the rights of LGBT people in Chechnya.
GLAAD led a campaign asking Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to condemn the attacks. Haley spoke out and said she was "disturbed" by the reports and that Chechen authorities must address the allegations.
So far Chechen authorities deny any wrongdoing and claim that gay people do not exist in the semiautonomous Russian republic, so therefore it is not possible that they are being persecuted. After much pressure, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would be launching an investigation into the matter. Russian media outlets reported that over 100 gay and bisexual men have been detained and put in camps where they are tortured because of their sexuality. There have been at least three reported deaths. Several men have escaped the camps and said that they were beaten, deprived of food, and tortured with electric shocks.
Watch a video of Sanders responding to Johnson below.