Trump invites Putin to Washington despite U.S. uproar on Helsinki summit

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump plans to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington this autumn, the White House said on Thursday, four days after a summit that led to an uproar in the United States over Trump’s failure to publicly confront Putin for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a Twitter post that Trump had directed national security adviser John Bolton to issue the invitation, even though U.S. lawmakers and top officials in Trump’s administration have not been briefed on what Trump and Putin discussed in Monday’s summit with only interpreters present.

Even Trump’s director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said he did not know what happened in Helsinki. “Well, you’re right, I don’t know what happened at that meeting,” Coats said in response to a question at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

The coveted invitation to Washington was sure to be seen as a victory by Putin, whose last official visit to the United States was in July 2007, when he spent two days at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Both Trump and Putin earlier on Thursday praised their first meeting as a success and blamed forces in the United States for trying to belittle its achievements. Despite the week’s furor, Trump also said he was looking forward to his second meeting with the Russian leader.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer immediately criticized the planned invitation. “Until we know what happened at that two hour meeting in Helsinki, the president should have no more one-on-one interactions with Putin. In the United States, in Russia, or anywhere else,” he said in a statement.

The last official visit by a Russian president to the United States was in June 2010, when Dmitri Medvedev, now Russian prime minister, visited the United States.

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The White House, with Trump under fierce criticism in the United States, did on Thursday reject Putin’s proposal that Russian authorities be present for the questioning of Americans it accuses of “illegal activities,” including a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

It was the latest about-face from the White House as it struggled to quiet the post-Helsinki summit uproar. Critics complained that Trump was given ample opportunity at a joint news conference on Monday to scold Putin over Russian interference in the U.S. election but instead accepted Putin’s denials over the word of American intelligence agencies.

Trump on Tuesday said he misspoke during the news conference. On Wednesday, Trump answered “no” to a reporter’s question on whether Russia was still targeting the United States, only to have Sanders say later he was saying “no” to answering any questions – not to the question itself.

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