Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to members of the press on health care September 25, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Rand Paul deflects Russia meddling questions
02:15 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

The White House said Tuesday that a letter from President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin was meant to introduce Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul to the Russian leader.

“At Senator Paul’s request, President Trump provided a letter of introduction. In the letter, the President mentioned topics of interest that Senator Paul wanted to discuss with President Putin,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

While in Russia, Paul announced Wednesday that he was “honored to deliver a letter from President Trump to President Vladimir Putin’s administration.”

“The letter emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges,” Paul said on Twitter.

CNN has reached out to Paul’s office for more details.

A White House official told CNN that Paul wanted this letter from Trump in hopes of setting up a meeting with Putin during his trip to Moscow this week. A meeting between Paul and Putin has not happened and isn’t expected to happen at the moment.

The topics that Paul said were included in the letter are things Paul wished to discuss with Putin, not topics Trump asked him to raise with Putin, the official told CNN.

A US official provided to CNN the text of the letter, which read: “I would like to introduce Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a voice for expanding dialogue with the Russian Federation. He will be in Moscow from August 5 to August 8.”

The brief letter continued, “Senator Paul would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss several topics. He is interested in legislative exchanges, parliamentary dialogue and cultural and educational exchange programs, increased counter-terrorism cooperation, building on recent successes like the disruption of the St. Petersburg plot and resolution of the military conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.”

The letter ended, “Thank you for considering meeting with Senator Paul during his visit to Russia.”

Paul spoke with Trump multiple times ahead of the senator’s travel to Moscow, both in person and in the Oval Office, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had planned this Russia trip before the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, Finland last month, the source said. After the summit, Paul and Trump discussed the senator’s planned meetings with Russian officials and the messages the president wanted Paul to convey to them.

Paul received the letter before leaving Washington and then hand-delivered it to the Russian government, the source said.

According to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the letter was sent to Putin “through diplomatic channels,” but the Kremlin has not yet reviewed it.

Paul has been in Russia this week on a trip he sees as a continuation of Trump’s diplomatic outreach to Putin.

On Monday, the Kentucky Republican invited Russian lawmakers to Washington “to continue dialogue on vital issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and combating terrorism,” which comes several weeks after Trump invited Putin to DC as well.

Paul remained supportive of Trump following the US President’s performance during a news conference with Putin in July. Trump said then that he doesn’t “see any reason why” Russia would be responsible for the election hacking, accepting Putin’s denial over the US intelligence community’s assessment. Facing public pressure, including criticism from some Republicans, Trump later said he misspoke.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina and Tim Lister contributed to this report from Moscow. CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Ashley Killough and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.