We Spoke to a Body Language Expert About That Viral Donald Trump Photo

May 11th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

The U.S. press wasn't invited to a meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian dignitaries on Wednesday afternoon, but images from the session still managed to make headlines.

A Russian photographer, who was allowed to sit-in on the conversation, captured these lighthearted moments from inside the Oval Office:

The photo-op drew criticism from former CIA Deputy Director David Cohen, who bluntly tweeted "it was not" a good idea to allow Russian photographers into the Oval Office.

It was not


Even White House staff complained that the Russian government "tricked us," CNN reported.

Others focused on what the images showed, rather than the perceived security risks.

Brian Klass, a fellow at the London School of Economic's Department of Government, observed in a tweet that the president seemed significantly more comfortable with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak than he did during a photo-op with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in March.

"Look at the body language," Klass wrote. "Guess which is a key NATO ally & which launched a cyber attack on American democracy."

Trump's body language is telling, media strategist Joel Silberman told ATTN:.

"It is striking the difference between the openness to the enemies and the closed body language to our greatest ally in Europe," Silberman said.

Trump's campaign and presidency has been dogged by a perception that he's too comfortable with the Russian government, with some alleging that he's subject to Russian influence because of his business endeavors in the region. While Trump has openly expressed a willingness to improve ties been the U.S. and Russia — which had often run cold during the Obama years — particularly in the realm of counter-terrorism. He's also repeatedly insisted that there's nothing unusual about his relationship with the Russian government.

The timing of the meeting seemed suspect to some as well. It took place one day after Trump fired FBI director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

Trump's relationship with the German government has been decidedly more combative than it was under Obama. Though he's denied claims that his relationship with Merkel is strained, he's surprised German officials by insisting that the country needs to pay the U.S. more to compensate for defense spending that goes into NATO, for example.

Silberman said the Trump's allegiances were plain as day in the photos.

During his meeting with the Russian officials, the president was "standing up with strongmen Russians, proving how big and strong he is — open chest thrown out, chin in front, and big grinning smile." There's "nothing adversarial" about the photo, he said, "not even a remote sense of distance, or use of personal space."

"Let's face it, if any of the banking things are true, they're looking at their asset: Donald Trump."

In contrast, Trump "looks like a shamed schoolboy who has been caught doing something very naughty" sitting next to Merkel, Silberman said. "The truth is that when this man [feels] disdain, he's incapable of not showing it."

The White House statement on the meeting didn't mention photos from the Oval Office or Kislyak's attendance. Trump and Lavrov discussed various military efforts and U.S.-Russia relations, according to the statement.