The White House announced President Donald Trump is “open” to traveling to Moscow for meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as he is denying his former attorney’s claim he knew beforehand about a July 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-link woman claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“President Trump looks forward to having President Putin to Washington after the first of the year, and he is open to visiting Moscow upon receiving a formal invitation,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday.
Putin earlier in the day said he is prepared to come to Washington and would invite Trump to the Russian capital.
Trump is moving forward with his campaign-trail promise to warm relations with Russia even as special counsel Robert S. Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee continue their probes into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mueller is also reportedly looking into whether Trump might have obstructed justice with his actions, comments and tweets after taking office.
Just on Wednesday, the White House said the second summit with Putin would be put on hold until Mueller wraps his investigation.
“The president believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year,” National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a statement.
Republicans, in a rare break with Trump, joined Democrats’ disgust earlier this month after Trump stood alongside Putin after their first summit in Helsinki and sided with the strongman over his own intelligence agencies about Russia’s election interference. Trump a few days later tried to walk that back, but he merely amended one word of a 45-minute joint press conference during which he repeatedly expressed doubts about Putin’s involvement.
Many Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill alike view Putin with major skepticism, though some of Trump’s conservative allies echo him in saying better U.S.-Russian relations would be a positive development.
Still, many lawmakers are trying to diagnose Trump’s seeming affinity for Putin, whom he this week acknowledged is trying to meddle in the midterm elections — but on behalf of Democrats, he claims. Senior Democratic leaders have publicly suggested Putin might have compromising information about Trump that is influencing the U.S. president’s behavior.
His former chief strategist has an idea.
“He likes President Xi, he likes Erdogan — who I think is the most dangerous guy in the world,” Steve Bannon said last week, referring to the Chinese and Turkish leaders. “And I think he’s attracted to Putin because he looks at those people as strong leaders of countries. They’re nationalists. They put their countries first and they get on with it. And they don’t care what other people think.”
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