US President Donald Trump’s invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House later this year has left his national intelligence director dumbfounded.
Dan Coats was caught visibly off guard during a question-and-answer session at a national security conference in Aspen, Colorado when the forum’s moderator informed him of the “breaking” news.
“Say that again?” Mr Coats said, in a response caught on video.
It came after NBC news correspondent Andrea Mitchell paused to inform Mr Coats and the audience of an official White House tweet on Friday morning (AEST) announcing Mr Trump had asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Mr Putin to Washington.
“OK,” he continued, before pausing for a deep breath then laughing.
“That’s going to be special”.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats informed on stage at Aspen Security Forum that the Trump administration has invited Vladimir Putin to the White House.
— ABC News (@ABC) July 19, 2018
The proposed meeting would be the second one-on-one between Mr Trump and the Russian president after their controversial summit in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.
Protestors held a candlelight vigil in front of the White House on Wednesday calling for the impeachment of Mr Trump after his behind-closed-doors meeting with the Russian president.
Former senior American intelligence officials have also expressed their concern and scepticism following the news the two leaders intend to hold a second summit meeting.
Mr Coats’ predecessor James Clapper told The New York Times the invitation seemed like a “reward for bad behaviour” and that bringing former KGB chief Mr Putin into the White House would pose intelligence risks.
“This will be a complex intelligence and counterintelligence challenge,” Mr Clapper said.
Mr Trump has struggled to quiet an uproar over his failure to confront Mr Putin over Russia’s meddling and has accused the media of holding a negative perspective.
The US president said the “Fake News Media” wanted a major confrontation with Russia that could lead to war in a tweet on his offical Twitter page.
“They are pushing so recklessly hard and hate the fact that I’ll probably have a good relationship with Putin. We are doing much better than any other country!” he wrote.
At his joint press conference with Mr Putin on Monday in Helsinki, Mr Trump seemed to cast doubt on US intelligence agencies concluding Mr Putin had ordered the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign.
“People came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others – they said they think it’s Russia,” Mr Trump said.
“I have President Putin, he said it’s not Russia, I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Later Mr Trump said he had misspoken and had meant to say he had no reason to believe “it wouldn’t be Russia” behind the election interference.