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Trump Asks Putin to WH for 2nd Summit  07/20 06:23

   Unbowed by swirling criticism of his summit encounter with Vladimir Putin, 
President Donald Trump swiftly invited the Russian leader to the White House 
this fall for a second get-together. Putin's ambassador to the U.S. said Moscow 
is open to discussing such a meeting, even as confusion abounds over exactly 
what they discussed the first time.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unbowed by swirling criticism of his summit encounter 
with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump swiftly invited the Russian leader 
to the White House this fall for a second get-together. Putin's ambassador to 
the U.S. said Moscow is open to discussing such a meeting, even as confusion 
abounds over exactly what they discussed the first time.

   Cleanup has continued from Monday's two-hour private meeting in Helsinki, 
Finland, with Trump belatedly saying Putin's "incredible offer" of shared 
U.S.-Russia investigations was no good after all.

   A White House meeting would be a dramatic extension of legitimacy to the 
Russian leader, who has long been isolated by the West for activities in 
Ukraine, Syria and beyond and is believed to have interfered in the 2016 
presidential election that sent Trump to the presidency. No Russian leader has 
visited the White House in nearly a decade.

   Trump asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Putin, and 
"those discussions are already underway," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee 
Sanders said Thursday. Trump earlier had tweeted that he looked forward to "our 
second meeting" as he defended his performance at Monday's summit, in which the 
two leaders conferred on a range of issues including terrorism, 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!" Trump tweeted.

   In Moscow, Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the U.S., said it is 
important to "deal with the results" of their first summit before jumping too 
fast into a new one. But he said, "Russia was always open to such proposals. We 
are ready for discussions on this subject."

   The Kremlin has the final say, but hasn't responded yet to Trump's 
invitation.

   News of Trump's invitation to Putin appeared to catch even the president's 
top intelligence official by surprise.

   "Say that again," National Intelligence Director Dan Coats responded, when 
informed of the invitation during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in 
Colorado.

   "OK," he continued, pausing for a deep breath. "That's going to be special."

   The announcement came as the White House sought to clean up days of 
confounding post-summit Trump statements on Russian interference in the 2016 
election. Trump's public doubting of Russia's responsibility in a joint news 
conference with Putin on Monday provoked withering criticism from Republicans 
as well as Democrats and forced the president to make a rare public admission 
of error.

   Then on Thursday, the White House said Trump "disagrees" with Putin's offer 
to allow U.S. questioning of 12 Russians who have been indicted for election 
interference in exchange for Russian interviews with the former U.S. ambassador 
to Russia and other Americans the Kremlin accuses of unspecified crimes. Trump 
initially had described the idea as an "incredible offer."

   The White House backtrack came just before the Senate voted overwhelmingly 
against the proposal. It was Congress' first formal rebuke of Trump's actions 
from the summit and its aftermath.

   Asked about the Putin invitation, Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said 
"I wouldn't do it, that's for damn sure."

   "If the Russians want a better relationship, trips to the White House aren't 
going to help," he added. "They should stop invading their neighbors."

   Mixed messages from Trump have increased worries in Congress that the White 
House is not taking seriously the threat that senior officials say Russia now 
poses to the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

   Democrats in the House sought Thursday to extend a state grant program for 
election security but were blocked by Republicans. There is $380 million 
approved in the current budget for the program, which is intended to help 
states strengthen election systems from hacking and other cyberattacks.

   Democratic lawmakers erupted into chants of "USA! USA!" during the debate,

   As for Putin's offer on investigations, Sanders it was "made in sincerity" 
and the U.S. hopes he will have the indicted Russians "come to the United 
States to prove their innocence or guilt."

   Just a day earlier, the White House had said the offer was under 
consideration, even though the State Department called Russia's allegations 
against the Americans, including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael 
McFaul, "absurd."

   Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday of the proposed Russian 
questioning, "That's not going to happen."

   "The administration is not going to send, force Americans to travel to 
Russia to be interrogated by Vladimir Putin and his team," Pompeo said in an 
interview with The Christian Broadcasting Network.

   Senate Republicans joined Democrats in swiftly passing a resolution, 98-0, 
that put the Senate on record against the questioning of American officials by 
a foreign government.

   Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell hastily arranged the vote as 
lawmakers unleashed an avalanche of resolutions and other proposed actions 
expressing alarm over Trump's meeting with Putin and the White House's shifting 
response.

   Coats said Thursday he wished the president hadn't undermined the 
conclusions of American intelligence agencies while standing next to Putin and 
felt it was his duty to correct the record. He restated the U.S. intelligence 
assessment about Russian meddling and Moscow's "ongoing, pervasive efforts to 
undermine our democracy."

   While they had met privately on three occasions in 2017, Trump opened the 
door to a potential White House meeting with Putin earlier this year. The 
Kremlin had said in April that the president had invited the Russian leader to 
the White House when they spoke by telephone in March. At the time, White House 
officials worked to convince a skeptical president that the Nordic capital 
would serve as a more effective backdrop --- and warned of a firestorm should a 
West Wing meeting go through.

   Still, Trump has expressed a preference for the White House setting for 
major meetings, including floating an invitation to Washington for North 
Korea's Kim Jong Un after their meeting in Singapore last month.

   Putin would be setting foot inside the building for the first time in more 
than a decade.

   He last visited the White House in 2005, when he met President George W. 
Bush, who welcomed the Russian leader in the East Room as "my friend."

   President Barack Obama welcomed then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to 
the White House in 2010, and took him on a burger run at a joint just outside 
the capital.

   Putin, in his first public comments about the summit, told Russian diplomats 
that U.S.-Russian relations are "in some ways worse than during the Cold War," 
but that the meeting with Trump allowed a start on "the path to positive 
change."

   Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she still has 
not seen evidence that Moscow tried to help elect Trump. She said at the Aspen 
Forum that Russia is attempting to "cause chaos on both sides."


(KA)

 
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