Sen. Rand Paul on Monday invited Russian lawmakers to Washington after meeting Russian members of parliament in Moscow.
“I am pleased to announced that we will be continuing this contact,” Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said in Moscow. “We agreed and we invited members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Russia to come to the US to meet with us in the US, in Washington.”
Paul is in Moscow meeting with Russian lawmakers in a trip he sees as a continuation of US President Donald Trump’s diplomatic outreach to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and comes several weeks after Trump invited Putin to DC as well. Paul has been one of Trump’s most outspoken supporters following the criticism Trump faced – including from some within his own party – for the US President’s handling of his meeting with Putin in July. During a news conference in Helsinki at the time, Trump declined to back the conclusion of the US intelligence that Russia interfered with the US presidential election over Putin’s denials, though Trump later said when he was back in the US that he misspoke.
Paul is also expected to meet with Russian deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov and State Duma Foreign Affairs committee head Leonid Slutsky during his visit, and plans to continue speaking on Tuesday. The US delegation also plans to visit Saint Petersburg.
When asked by CNN whether the issue of Russian interference came up, Paul said he had “general discussions about a lot of issues.”
“We had general discussions about a lot of issues and basically we’ve decided that right now we will try to is establish a dialogue and solve issues.”
Paul added, “your biggest issue right now there is no dialogue, issues that we can’t even have discussion about because we have no dialogue.”
Senior Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev, who was also in the room, reiterated the Russian position that “there was no interference in 2016,” adding “there of course will not be any interference in the elections this year.”
Russian state media also reported that Slutsky asked Paul about Maria Butina, the Russian national charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of Russia within the US.
“We are interested in non-proliferation (of small and medium-range missiles). We are interested (in the topic of) sanctions, we are interested in Maria Butina and her early release. We will continue our conversation with our American counterparts tomorrow on these and other most likely regional issues of the international agenda,” Slutsky said, according to Russian state media. “We hope and expect that our colleagues will conduct the necessary consultations with Washington, and tomorrow we can consult about a roadmap and the plan of actions (on Butina’s case).”
CNN’s Fred Pleitgen and Clare Foran contributed to this report.