Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a statement Saturday saying that he did not mean “to be disrespectful or criticize the actions” of President Donald Trump during a recent interview in which he appeared surprised to learn that the White House had decided to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington in the fall.
The widely publicized interview took place Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum. During the interview, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell told Coats on stage that the White House had just announced “Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.” Coats asked Mitchell to repeat herself and then broke into laughter before saying, “OK, that’s going to be special.”
In his statement on Saturday, Coats said, “some press coverage has mischaracterized my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview. My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the President.”
Coats went on to say, “I and the entire intel community are committed to providing the best possible intelligence to inform and support President Trump’s ongoing efforts to prevent Russian meddling in our upcoming elections, to build strong relationships internationally in order to maintain peace, denuclearize dangerous regimes and protect our nation and our allies.”
In the same interview on Thursday, Coats publicly broke with Trump over his decision to meet privately with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, saying, “if he had asked me how that ought to be conducted, I would have suggested a different way.”
Trump and Coats appeared to be at odds in the aftermath of the President’s meeting with Putin at the beginning of the week.
Coats released a statement Monday re-affirming the conclusion of the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election after Trump declined to endorse that conclusion during a press conference with Putin in Helsinki.
Trump’s comments led to a quick rebuke from top Republicans in Congress, as well as many Democrats, and the President later said that he misspoke during the press conference and that he holds Putin personally responsible for election interference.
But Coats’ televised reaction on Thursday to the news that the administration wanted Putin to come to Washington for a second round of talks prompted fresh speculation over the intelligence chief’s future and whether he would stay in the administration.
During the same interview, Coats said that he intends to remain in his current role as long as he has “the ability to seek the truth and speak the truth.”