It has been more than two weeks since President Donald Trump met one-on-one with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, but Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats admitted Thursday that he is still does not know the details of what was said during the sit-down.
Briefing reporters from the White House podium about the Trump administration’s efforts to prevent election interference by Russia and other potential actors, Coats and national security adviser John Bolton were asked to address the President’s commitment to the issue given he failed to directly confront Putin last month.
While Bolton said Trump raised the issue during an expanded bilateral meeting with Putin, Coats clearly stated that he is “not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki.”
Coats would not elaborate on why he, the nation’s top intelligence official, is “not in a position” to “fully understand” what occurred during that meeting but his comments are sure to raise more questions about why he is in the dark.
Days after the summit in Helsinki, Coats came under scrutiny after telling a crowd at the Aspen Security Forum that he had no idea what Trump said to Putin – a meeting he said Trump did not seek his advice on or he would have suggested the President do it “a different way.”
“I don’t know what happened in that meeting. I think as time goes by and the President has already mentioned some of the things that happened in that meeting, I think we will learn more. But that is the President’s prerogative,” Coats said last month.
He also appeared blindsided when he was told the White House is in discussions about inviting Putin to Washington in the fall.
Now, weeks later, Coats’ comments have once again raised the question of what exactly Trump and Putin discussed during their meeting and who, if anyone, within the administration has been fully briefed.
Last week, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the lack of clarity surrounding the summit.
“President Trump held a summit with Vladimir Putin, someone who has violated the most fundamental international norms … in the summit’s aftermath, we saw an American President who appeared submissive and deferential,” committee chairman, Republican Sen. Bob Corker said.
“We’ve heard that some agreements were reached, but as of yet have little idea what those might be,” he added.
Pompeo ardently defended the administration’s policies throughout the three-hour long hearing but would not provide a clear answer to questions about the President’s conversation with Putin, despite telling lawmakers he had discussed the meeting with Trump.
“Presidents are permitted to have conversations with their Cabinet members that aren’t repeated in public,” Pompeo asserted.