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Trump extends invitation to Putin for fall meeting in Washington

The announcement of the invitation came as the White House sought to clean up days of confounding statements on Russian interference in the 2016 election that sent Trump to the presidency.

world Updated: Jul 20, 2018 20:30 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Trump extends invitation to Putin,Trump-Putin,Washington
US president Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. (Reuters Photo)

US president Donald Trump has asked for another summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, this time in Washington DC, even as questions swirl about the one they had in Helsinki.

The move caught even Trump’s intelligence chief unawares, who had said publicly he had no idea what happened at the one-on-one between the two leaders in Finland.

Trump tweeted on Thursday he was looking forward to a second meeting with Putin, but there was no indication how soon it would be. That came in a tweet from the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. “President Trump asked @Ambjohnbolton (National Security Adviser John Bolton) to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway.”

Asked about the invitation at a think-tank event, Daniel R Coats, Director of National Intelligence, said, making light of him being out of the loop: “Say that again? That’s going to be special.”

“If he had asked me how that ought to be conducted, I would have suggested a different way,” Coats said in response to a question how he would have advised the president if asked about the Helsinki summit. “But that’s not my role; that’s not my job. So, it is what it is.”

Coats is a former Republican senator who was picked by Trump to head the directorate of national intelligence, an apex body instituted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to unify intelligence sharing under one supervisory body — which makes the incumbent the head of US intelligence.

He became the first US official, and only one so far, to break publicly with the president’s remarks at the Helsinki conference in which he had been seen by a majority of Americans to be siding with President Putin on the question of meddling in US elections, against the joint and unanimous assessment of US intelligence blaming Russia for it.

President Trump has since tried to walk back his Helsinki comments and said in a a rare public retraction that he had “full faith” in US intelligence agencies and that he accepts their finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.

He has gone further and held Putin personally responsible for it, in a recent interview, but has not sounded very convincing. He has been more inclined to clear his own name by claiming repeatedly that there was no collusion, which is being probed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

His one-on-one meeting with Putin was something that even his allies had seemed worried about before it took place. And they are now more concerned as it went on for much longer than scheduled. More than two hours, according to Trump, who seems convinced the duration of the meeting was proof he got along with the Russian leader.

But US officials and lawmakers are worried about what went on in that one-on-one, where the two leaders were by themselves and their respective interpreters. Some US lawmakers, including Republicans, are exploring the possibility of deposing the interpreter at a hearing, which is without precedence.

First Published: Jul 20, 2018 10:34 IST