President Trump is inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Washington, the White House said Thursday, brushing aside the furor over Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and catching many officials off guard, including the president’s director of national intelligence.
Capping a week in which lawmakers in both parties denounced Mr. Trump for failing to confront Mr. Putin publicly about Russia’s attempts to influence the election, the White House said the president had directed National Security Adviser John R. Bolton to invite the Russian leader to Washington sometime this fall.
“Those discussions are already underway,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted.
The decision to reward Mr. Putin with a prestigious visit to the nation’s capital took many by surprise. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats learned about the invitation on stage at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, where he had been telling the audience that the U.S. is “under attack” by Russian cyberforces.
“Say that again?” Mr. Coats asked in surprise about the Putin invitation, as the audience laughed.
When told again that it was true, Mr. Coats replied, “OK. That’s going to be special.”
The invitation was announced after Mr. Trump tweeted that he looked forward to “our second meeting” with Mr. Putin.
He defended his actions at a meeting Monday in Finland, where the two leaders discussed cooperation on Syria’s civil war, Israeli security, nuclear proliferation and North Korea.
“There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems … but they can ALL be solved!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Former DNI James R. Clapper said he had the “same sort of nonplussed reaction” as Mr. Coats when he learned about the possibility of a second summit.
“This is clearly an unconventional, unorthodox White House. There is no question about that,” Mr. Clapper said on CNN.
Democratic lawmakers expressed outrage at the invitation.
“Until we know what happened at that two-hour meeting in Helsinki, the president should have no more one-on-one interactions with Putin. In the United States, in Russia or anywhere else,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she was appalled.
“Trump wants to invite Putin — the individual responsible for spearheading the attack on our democracy — to the White House on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington dangerously *refuse* to protect our election systems. We cannot afford this.”
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who has been mentioned as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, tweeted, “Putin should be held accountable for ordering the Russian attacks on the 2016 election, not invited to the WH right before the next election.”
Philippe Reines, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton, tweeted, “Trump invited Putin to come to Washington DC in the Fall. I wonder where Melania will sleep.”
The invitation was sent less than an hour after the Senate essentially rebuked Mr. Trump for considering Mr. Putin’s request to interrogate U.S. officials, a proposal that surfaced during their Helsinki meeting.
The Senate passed a nonbinding resolution on a 98-0 vote opposing turning over U.S. diplomats, including former Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, to Russia for questioning.
The White House made it clear just before the vote that Mr. Trump was rejecting Mr. Putin’s suggestion that he would make Russian authorities indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation available for questioning in exchange for allowing Russians to interview American officials.
“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” Mrs. Sanders said.
Mr. Schumer said the nation needs to send a clear message that “it is neither the policy nor the practice of the United States to submit our citizens, let alone our ambassadors, to the interrogation of a foreign adversary.”
“Let this resolution be a warning to the administration that Congress will not allow this to happen,” Mr. Schumer said from the Senate floor. “I call on President Trump to say once and for all, not through his spokespeople, that the lopsided disgraceful trade he called an incredible offer is now off the table.”
Senate Republican leaders, meanwhile, blocked a separate nonbinding resolution that would have put the chamber on record as standing behind the intelligence community and its findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
The resolution, authored by Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat, was offered in response to Mr. Trump’s widely panned trip to Helsinki, where he publicly accepted Mr. Putin’s claim that the Kremlin did not mess with the election.
The effort flamed out after Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, stood in opposition — effectively killing the resolution under Senate rules.
“My concern with this resolution is that it is purely a symbolic act,” Mr. Cornyn said.
The Texas Republican said Senate committees should be “permitted to call the witnesses and ask the hard questions and develop the record before we go on record as to a resolution like this.”
Mr. Coats, the top U.S. intelligence official, also made the startling acknowledgment that he didn’t know what Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin discussed without any aides present.
“As time goes by, the president has already mentioned some things that happened in that meeting, I think we will learn more,” Mr. Coats said minutes before learning that his boss had invited Mr. Putin to Washington.
Asked at the Helsinki press conference whether he believed Mr. Coats’ assessment of Russian meddling or Mr. Putin’s denials, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia.
A day later, Mr. Trump said he misspoke and intended to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be” Russia.
Mr. Coats told moderator Andrea Mitchell in Aspen that “I wished [Mr. Trump] made a different statement” in Helsinki. He said he “discussed [it] personally with the president, and I think it’s time to move on.”
“I believed that he would correct the record for that,” Mr. Coats said. “I think that now has been clarified, based on his great reactions to this. And so I don’t think I want to go any further than that.”
The intelligence chief gave a blistering view of Russia’s past and ongoing cyberattacks on the U.S.
“It’s undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on this, and basically they are the ones that are trying to undermine our basic values and divide us with our allies. They are the ones that are trying to wreak havoc over our election process. We need to call them out on that,” Mr. Coats said.
He said the U.S. is being attacked over the internet by Russia, China, Iran and the Islamic State.
“I’m concerned about a cyber 9/11,” Mr. Coats said. “Let’s say you shut down Wall Street for a week. What does that do to world markets and people’s investments? What about an attack on the electric grid in New England in January that may be sophisticated enough to take it out for three days? How many people will die from minus-degree weather? There are people out there playing this game of chess with us in ways that … want to take us down. We have to be better than they are.”
The autumn visit to Washington won’t be Mr. Putin’s first. He came to the White House on an official state visit in 2001 to meet President George W. Bush and has traveled to the U.S. on other occasions.
Mr. Putin visited the U.S. only once during Barack Obama’s presidency, a trip to the United Nations in New York in 2015.