President Donald Trump has invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to visit the US, in a move that drew startled laughter from US intelligence chief Dan Coats.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said when he was told about the invitation during a live interview: “That’s gonna be special!”
President Trump’s presidency has been clouded by allegations that Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 US presidential election in his favor. However, the Kremlin denies the allegations.
At the Helsinki summit, President Putin offered access to 12 Russians indicted in absentia by the US authorities over the alleged interference, on condition the Russian authorities could question 12 Americans over a different case. President Trump first praised the suggestion as “incredible” but later rejected it.
Since his return from Finland, President Trump or the White House have had to correct or clarify other comments regarding Russia, creating confusion and prompting the Democrats to demand details of his private talks with President Putin.
Vladimir Putin, in power in Russia since 2000, last visited the US in 2015, when he met President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
On July 19, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that discussions about a visit by Vladimir Putin to Washington DC this autumn were already under way.
Russian ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov said Russia had always been open to the idea of a visit but it was “up to the Kremlin to decide how many summits are needed, and when”.
The announcement appeared to come as a surprise to US intelligence chief Dan Coats, who was told about it during a live interview at the Aspen Security Forum in the state of Colorado.
Dan Coats added that he did not yet know what President Trump and President Putin had discussed during their meeting, at which only the pair and their interpreters were present.
At the post-summit news conference in Helsinki, President Putin was asked whether he would extradite 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted in the US for hacking Democratic Party computers.
No extradition treaty exists between the US and Russia, but Vladimir Putin said he would meet the US government “halfway”.
President Putin said that US investigators could question the 12 suspects inside Russia if, in turn, Russian investigators were allowed to question US citizens with regard to a case against financier Bill Browder.
Bill Browder was instrumental in the US imposing sanctions in 2012 on top Russian officials accused of corruption in the Magnitsky affair.
One of the Americans on Russia’s list is a former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul.
The idea of allowing Russia to quiz US citizens sparked outrage and the Senate voted 98-0 against it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was “not going to happen”.
Michael McFaul tweeted his gratitude to the Senate: “98-0. Bipartisanship is not dead yet in the US Senate. Thank you all for your support.”
At the news conference in Helsinki, President Trump said: “He [Vladimir Putin] offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigations with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”
Now, however, President Trump says he “disagrees” with President Putin’s proposal.
He has also clarified remarks at the news conference in which he said he saw no reason for Russia to have meddled in the 2016 US election – despite US intelligence concluding just that.
Speaking to CBS News on July 18, President Trump said he held Vladimir Putin personally responsible for interfering in the election, and that he was “very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling”.
Vladimir Putin has also described the summit as “successful” but warned “there are forces in the United States that are prepared to casually sacrifice Russian-US relations”.