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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Saturday said that his reaction to being told that a White House visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin was being discussed should not be taken as a sign of disrespect to President Donald Trump.
Coats was speaking with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday when she informed him of a White House tweet that a Putin visit was being discussed for the fall. Coats asked that she repeat it, and laughed and then said “OK. That’s going to be special.”
“Some press coverage has mischaracterized my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview,” Coats said in a statement. “My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the President.”
“I and the entire intel community are committed to providing the best possible intelligence to inform and support President Trump’s ongoing efforts to prevent Russian meddling in our upcoming elections, to build strong relationships internationally in order to maintain peace, denuclearize dangerous regimes and protect our nation and our allies,” Coats said.
Coats appeared to be responding to White House officials who in recent days expressed anger over his remarks, with one accusing him of “going rogue,” according to The Washington Post. Without actually walking back his statements, Coats seemed to be seeking to mollify a president and a White House that can be extremely sensitive to perceived slights.
The news about discussions about a possible White house Putin visit, which White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders disclosed on Thursday, came days after Trump’s widely criticized comments following his summit with the Russian leader in Helsinki.
Coats said at the Aspen forum that he did not know what was discussed between Trump and Putin in Helsinki.
Trump and the White House has tried in recent days to clarify Trump’s comments at a press conference in Helsinki, in which Trump appeared to not backing his intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow had interfered in the presidential election and blamed America for the deteriorating relations with Russia.
Trump said at the Monday press conference with Putin in Helsinki that “(Putin) just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Trump on Tuesday said that he misspoke, and that “The sentence should have been…’I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.'”
Trump also said on Tuesday that he had “full faith and support” for the American intelligence community and supported their assessment that Russia meddled in the election, although the president claimed that others could also be responsible.
The explanation did not convince critics. Trump on Twitter Saturday again called the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller a “witch hunt.”
Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether there was any collusion with people associated with the Trump campaign, and also whether the president obstructed justice.
“No Collusion, No Obstruction,” Trump said on Twitter Saturday afternoon.