Trump-Putin meeting comments not intended to be critical, says top US spy

A top US intelligence official has said he meant no disrespect to President Donald Trump in a televised interview discussing the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Director of national intelligence Dan Coats said his comments at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado were not intended to be critical of the president’s decision to invite Mr Putin to a meeting in Washington later this year.

“Some press coverage has mischaracterised my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview,” Mr Coats said. “My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticise the actions of the president.”

Mr Coats has been under scrutiny since he said he wished Mr Trump had not met one-on-one with the Russian leader and expressed dismay that the president had publicly undermined US intelligence agencies.

Mr Coats issued a rare statement rebutting the president’s comments during a press conference with Mr Putin doubting the findings of the intelligence community on Russian election interference.

White House aides were fearful that he might resign over the president’s comments, and the president spoke positively of Mr Coats in a television interview on Wednesday.

But Mr Coats’ display of surprise upon learning that Mr Trump had invited Mr Putin to Washington this autumn for a follow-on meeting drew the president’s ire.

“Say that again,” Mr 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.”

Donald Trump met Vladimir Putin with just interpreters in Helsinki (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Mr Coats also revealed in the interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he was unaware of what transpired in the private meeting between Mr Trump and Mr 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,” Mr Coats said of Russia. “They are the ones who are trying to wreak havoc over our election process.”

Mr Coats, who oversees the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies, also said that if he had been asked, he would have advised Mr Trump against meeting Mr Putin alone, with just interpreters.

“That’s not my role. That’s not my job. It is what it is,” Mr Coats said.

- Press Association

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