Trump Invites Putin To Washington Despite Pushback From Helsinki Summit
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump is inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington this fall to continue the conversation the two leaders started in Helsinki. Trump has already taken a lot of heat for his handling of that first meeting, and the White House continued the cleanup effort today. On Capitol Hill, the Senate also weighed in, strongly rejecting the idea that the U.S. might hand over a former ambassador for questioning by Russian officials.
NPR's Scott Horsley joins me now from the White House. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Good to have you with us. I think my mind is officially blown. I'm still recovering from Helsinki, and now comes word that we might be facing summit part deux. What do we know?
HORSLEY: The president is doubling down. He tweeted this morning that the summit with Putin was a great success, even though many people came to the opposite conclusion. And Trump says he's looking forward to a follow-up so he and Putin can start implementing some of the things they talked about in Finland. It wasn't clear from the president's tweet if that second meeting was already in the works or just some notion on the distant horizon. But this afternoon, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had asked his national security adviser John Bolton to extend an invitation to Putin to meet here in Washington this fall. And Sanders says those discussions are underway.
KELLY: Now, news about the second meeting came as Dan Coats, who is of course the director of National Intelligence, as he was actually onstage speaking in Aspen. And it's really worth a listen. This is Coats speaking with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.
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ANDREA MITCHELL: I do want to say we have some breaking news. The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.
DAN COATS: Say that again.
MITCHELL: You - Vladimir Putin coming to...
COATS: Did I hear you - did I hear you...
MITCHELL: Yeah. Yeah.
COATS: That's going to be special.
KELLY: That's going to be special. Scott, that sounds like genuine surprise on the part of the nation's top intelligence official.
HORSLEY: It does. And, Mary Louise, that reaction illustrates some of the potential friction between the president and others in his administration at least when it comes to Russia.
HORSLEY: Trump is always conciliatory, saying he wants closer ties to Putin. He complains that he's being held back by the special counsel's investigation. But many others in this administration are deeply skeptical of Russia. After the president's widely panned news conference on Monday, in fact, in which he mentioned Coats by name and seemed to question the U.S. intelligence findings about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Coats quickly put out a statement saying, we have been clear about that meddling. And he talked about that statement today.
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COATS: Well, my thoughts there were that I believed I needed to correct the record for that and that this is the job I signed up for and that was my responsibility. Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement.
HORSLEY: And Coats also reiterated today that Russia is still trying to undermine American democracy. And he says the U.S. needs to focus on protecting the midterms in November.
KELLY: And, Scott, I want to jump ahead 'cause I mentioned that the U.S. Senate also had some stuff going on. We saw an unusual display of that rarest of Washington creatures - bipartisanship. What exactly played out in the Senate today?
HORSLEY: The Senate voted 98 to nothing for a nonbinding resolution saying lawmakers are opposed to the idea that the U.S. would turn over a former ambassador or anyone else for questioning by Russian officials. This was an idea that Vladimir Putin had floated in Helsinki and an idea that the president had initially seemed to entertain. In fact, he called it an incredible offer. But today, just before the Senate vote, Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, walked that back. She said that the president now disagrees with the idea, even though she added it was sincerely offered by Putin.
KELLY: All right, thank you, Scott.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you.
KELLY: NPR's Scott Horsley reporting from the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.