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Spy chief didn’t know what took place at Trump-Putin summit

From Wire Reports
July 19. 2018 7:48PM

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats attends a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington on Wednesday. (REUTERS/Leah Millis)

WASHINGTON — Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats on Thursday acknowledged that he did not know what took place in President Donald Trump’s one-on-one meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as the White House announced plans to invite the Russian leader to Washington, D.C., for a second meeting in the fall.

“Well, you’re right. I don’t know what happened in that meeting,” Coats told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an interview at the Aspen Security Forum. He said that while it was Trump’s prerogative to decide how to conduct the meeting, he would have advised the President otherwise.

“If he had asked me how that ought to be conducted, I would have suggested a different way,” Coats said. “But that’s not my role; that’s not my job. So, it is what it is.”

Coats also seemed stunned to learn that Trump invited Putin to the White House. “The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall,” Mitchell said.

Coats replied, “Say that again?” as the audience erupted in laughter.

“Did I hear you ... ?” Then he said, “OK. That’s going to be special.”

Coats, who on Monday issued a statement standing by the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, also said that he would have liked to have seen Trump strike a different tone in his extraordinary 46-minute news conference with Putin.

“Obviously, I wish that he’d made a different statement,” Coats said when asked about Trump’s remarks on Monday defending Putin. “But I think that now that has been clarified, based on his late reactions to this, and so I don’t think I want to go any further than that.”

The statement from Coats came as the White House announced that Trump had asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Putin to Washington in the fall. Trump earlier Thursday had said in a tweet that he looks forward to a second meeting with the Russian president, without giving any further details.

“In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a tweet Thursday afternoon. “President Trump asked @Ambjohnbolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway.”

Trump told lawmakers this week he and Putin had made “significant progress toward addressing” key issues. U.S. officials have offered few specifics on what was accomplished on those subjects beyond what Sanders on Wednesday called “the beginning of a dialogue with Russia.”

The President’s longest encounter with Putin, a two-hour-plus session, included no other officials or note-takers, just interpreters.

In a brief speech Thursday to Russian diplomats in Moscow, Putin said the Helsinki summit had led to “useful agreements.” Now, he said, both U.S. jobs and European and Middle Eastern security hang in the balance as Trump’s U.S. opponents try to block the path to improving relations between Moscow and Washington.

“We will see how things go, as some forces in America are trying to belittle and disavow the results of the Helsinki meeting,” Putin said. “We see that there are forces in the United States ready to sacrifice Russian-American relations for their own domestic political ambitions.”

A day earlier, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, told reporters in Moscow “important verbal agreements” were reached at the Helsinki meeting.

That includes preservation of the New START and INF agreements, major bilateral arms-control treaties whose futures have been in question, Antonov said.

He also relayed Putin had made “specific and interesting proposals to Washington” on how the two countries could cooperate on Syria.

In the United States, the focus in the days since the summit has been on Trump’s views on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the degree to which Russia remains a threat — as well as what was accomplished.

Earlier Thursday, Trump lashed out on Twitter about news media coverage of Monday’s summit, which has focused heavily on Trump’s refusal to publicly confront Putin about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media,” Trump wrote. “I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more. There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems . . . but they can ALL be solved!”

Meanwhile, the fallout continued on Capitol Hill.

Senate Republicans blocked two attempts to pass resolutions backing the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, while insisting that the president cooperate with the Mueller investigation and take punitive steps against the Russian government for the threat it continues to pose.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., argued against voting on the first resolution, presented by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., saying that it was an unwarranted attempt to engage in diplomacy and that “Trump derangement syndrome has officially come to the Senate.”

Sanders shot back, arguing that his resolution simply sought to affirm the intelligence community’s determinations in the face of the President’s equivocation and protect the sanctity of the special counsel’s probe.

Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., also unsuccessfully attempted to secure a vote on a resolution throwing support behind the intelligence community’s determinations and the Justice Department for Mueller’s probe and calling on the President to fully implement the sanctions that Congress passed last year.

But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, objected, dismissing the bipartisan effort as needlessly “symbolic.”

“Yes it’s symbolic. The symbolism is important. Our agencies of government need to know that we stand behind them. That’s what this is about,” a visibly frustrated Flake retorted on the floor. He promised to raise the resolution again and predicted that “ultimately it will pass.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already called on the chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations and Banking committees to hold a new round of hearings on sanctions and other matters related to Russian aggression.

On Thursday, the Republican leader scheduled a floor vote on only one of the many resolutions being offered: a measure from Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, expressing the sense of Congress that the United States should not make any current or former American diplomats, political appointees, troops or law enforcement officials available to Russian authorities for interviews.

On Monday, Putin raised the possibility of interviewing Russian officials indicted in Mueller’s probe in exchange for granting Russia the same access to similar American officials. In the days since, Putin has expressed a particular interest in interviewing former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

None of the resolutions offered Thursday would be binding.

Schumer, meanwhile, expressed exasperation on the Senate floor that so little is known about what took place behind closed doors between Trump and Putin.

He called for bringing in Trump administration officials who were present at the summit, including the interpreter who accompanied Trump in the private meeting with Putin, “so we all know what happened.”

“Do we know if President Trump made commitments about the security of Israel or Syria of North Korea or any of the other issues the President said he discussed with Putin?” Schumer asked. “It is utterly amazing, utterly amazing, that no one knows what was said. This is a democracy. If our President makes agreements with one of our leading — if not our leading — adversary, his Cabinet has to know about it, and so do the American people.”

The prospect of calling Trump’s interpreter to testify generated some intense debate Thursday.

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