Unbowed by swirling criticism of his summit encounter with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump swiftly invited the Russian leader to the White House this autumn for a second get-together.
The cleanup from the first meeting in Helsinki has continued with no letup. Trump belatedly decided Putin’s “incredible offer” of shared US-Russia investigations was no good after all.
A White House meeting would be a dramatic extension of legitimacy to the Russian leader, who has long been isolated by the West for activities in Ukraine, Syria and beyond and is believed to have interfered in the 2016 presidential election that sent Trump to the presidency. No Russian leader has visited the White House in nearly a decade.
Trump asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Putin, and “those discussions are already underway,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Thursday (US time). Trump earlier had tweeted that he looked forward to “our second meeting” as he defended his performance at Monday’s summit, in which the two leaders conferred on a range of issues including terrorism, Israeli security, nuclear proliferation and North Korea.
“There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems … but they can ALL be solved!” Trump tweeted.
There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin to the invitation.
News of the invite appeared to catch even the president’s top intelligence official by surprise.
“Say that again,” National Intelligence Director Dan Coats responded, when informed of the invitation during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
“OK,” he continued, pausing for a deep breath. “That’s going to be special.”
The announcement came as the White House sought to clean up days of confounding post-summit Trump statements on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump’s public doubting of Russia’s responsibility in a joint news conference with Putin on Monday provoked withering criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats and forced the president to make a rare public admission of error.