(WASHINGTON) — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was being interviewed on stage at the Aspen Security Forum Thursday when he was surprised to hear President Donald Trump was inviting Vladimir Putin to Washington this fall.
“Say that again?” Coats responded with laughter after being told the news. “OK, that’s going to be special.”
NBC News Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who was interviewing Coats, paused to inform him and the audience of the invitation, announced by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a tweet posted while Coats was speaking at the Aspen Institute event.
“We have some breaking news,” Mitchell said. “The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.”
Later, a reporter in the audience asked Coats whether he had been aware beforehand.
“I think based on my reaction I wasn’t aware of that,” he responded.
Mitchell then asked Coats whether he would recommend against another private, one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin without note takers as happened at their summit Monday in Helsinki, Finland.
“If I were asked that question, I would look for a different way of doing it,” he said.
Thursday caps off a week in which Coats, who leads the United States intelligence community, has seemed at odds with Trump.
At his joint press conference with Putin on Monday, Trump appeared to cast doubt on the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Putin ordered the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“People came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others — they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said. “I have president Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Before Trump on Tuesday said he misspoke, and meant to say he had no reason to believe “it wouldn’t be Russia” behind the election interference, Coats responded in a same-day statement defending the work of the intelligence community.
“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security,” he wrote.
At the Aspen event Thursday, Mitchell asked Coats about his thoughts on the president’s remarks in Helsinki.
“Obviously I wished he had made a different statement,” he said. “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.”
As Trump clarified his position Tuesday, he emphasized that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, and reaffirmed his “full faith and support” for America’s intelligence agencies.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” the president said.
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