Political News

Dan Coats Denies Criticism of Trump Over Putin White House Visit

Posted July 21, 2018 7:22 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top intelligence chief on Saturday played down his seemingly astonished reaction last week to the news that President Donald Trump planned to invite President Vladimir Putin of Russia to Washington.

“My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president,” the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said in a statement.

Coats appeared surprised Thursday when he learned during a televised national security conference in Aspen, Colorado, of the president’s intention to welcome Putin to the White House. Upon hearing the news, he turned to the event’s moderator, Andrea Mitchell of NBC, asking, “Say that again?”

“OK,” he added, drawing the word out. “That is going to be special.”

In his statement, Coats also laid blame on the news media. “Some press coverage has mischaracterized my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview,” he said.

Diplomats and career officials have scrambled to understand what exactly transpired between Trump and Putin during their private meeting Monday in Helsinki, and Coats had seemed taken aback by the prospect of another one-on-one encounter. He said he planned to warn the president of the dangers of such a meeting — something he did not walk back in his statement.

“If he had asked me how that ought to be conducted, I would have suggested a different way,” Coats said Thursday during the conference. “But that’s not my role; that’s not my job. So, it is what it is.”

Since the Helsinki summit meeting, Coats has stepped in to publicly defend the conclusion by intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, openly contradicting Trump and his extraordinary comments Monday in which the president challenged that assessment while standing next to Putin. Coats’ reaction Thursday underscored the growing divide between the president and his intelligence officials in their approach to Russian policy.

That rift has prompted speculation in Washington that Coats could step down or be fired.