Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Saturday sought to clarify critical remarks he made this week about President Donald Trump inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit the White House this fall.
During a fireside chat at the Aspen Security Forum Thursday, Coats was left confounded after NBC anchor Andrea Mitchell first notified him of Putin receiving an invitation to Washington, D.C. “Say that again,” Coats said, cupping his hand over his ear on live television. He took a deep breath and continued: “OK. That’s going to be special.”
Coats also revealed in the interview with Mitchell that he was unaware of what transpired in the private meeting between President Trump and Putin in Helsinki, and restated without equivocation his belief that Russia continues to pose a threat to the American electoral system. “Basically, they are the ones that are trying to undermine our basic values and divide with our allies,” Coats said of Russia. “They are the ones who are trying to wreak havoc over our election process.”
Coats, who oversees the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies, also said that if he had been asked, he would have advised President Trump against meeting Putin alone, with just interpreters. “That’s not my role. That’s not my job. It is what it is,” he said.
Walking back his statements about President Trump, Coats said they were not intended to be critical of the decision to invite Putin to a meeting in Washington later this year. “Some press coverage has mischaracterized my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview,” Coats said. “My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president.”
“I and the entire intel[ligence] 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 added. The statement does not include a formal apology to President Trump.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.