President Donald Trump has instructed National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington this fall and “discussions are already underway,” according to a tweet Thursday from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The invitation comes just days after the president met the Russian leader in Helsinki Monday and drew sharp bipartisan criticism for not publicly confronting Putin about Russian interference in the 2016 election during their press conference, and for casting doubt on the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Putin had ordered it.
It also came just hours after Sanders issued a statement Thursday that the president, facing a political backlash from Republicans as well as Democrats, now “disagrees” with Putin’s proposal that Russian investigators be allowed to question Americans, including former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul.
Putin said that should be in exchange for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team being allowed to work with Russian investigators to question the 12 Russians indicted in the election interference investigation. At the summit, Trump called it “an incredible offer.”
Thursday’s development was just the latest example of the president walking back comments related to the summit.
When ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega asked the president on Wednesday, “Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?” Trump replied, “Thank you very much, no” and confirmed his answer when Vega followed up.
Later Wednesday, Sanders suggested an alternate meaning to the president’s “no,” suggesting he was refusing to take questions about the topic.
While the White House said nothing about the exact timing being discussed about a second meeting, the president, pushing back on criticism that he had looked weak compared to Putin at the Helsinki summit, said in a tweet Thursday morning that he was “looking forward” to another encounter.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement reflecting Democratic demands that lawmakers be told more about what happened during Trump’s private meeting with Putin.
“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,” Schumer said.
SOURCE: ABC News – Roey Hadar