Washington, July 20: The White House has announced that the Russian President has been invited to Washington later this year, despite mounting criticism over US President Donald Trump's failure to take Vladimir Putin to task over Moscow's meddling in the 2016 US presidential polls.
The White House's announcement came on Thursday even as leaders in Washington were still struggling to understand what happened when Trump and Putin met earlier this week in Helsinki, Finland.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a tweet said that National Security Adviser John Bolton extended the invitation and that "discussions are already underway".
"That's gonna be special!" said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, when he was told about the invitation during a live interview.
The White House was finding it hard to explain statements made by Trump after the Helsinki meeting as uncertainty spread throughout the government about whether he had reached agreements with Putin on Syria and Ukraine, leaving his military and diplomatic corps in the dark, the New York Times reported.
Coats said he would have advised against Trump and Putin's private meeting in Helsinki, which worried US security officials because no notes were taken and only two interpreters were present, but that he had not been consulted.
Underscoring how little is known about the meeting, Coats said that he was not told what happened in the room. Asked whether it was possible Putin had secretly recorded the more-than-two-hour meeting, Coats answered: "That risk is always there."
Thursday's announcement was the latest unexpected turn in a week in which Trump faced a torrent of bipartisan criticism over his cozy approach to Putin and his conflicting statements about Moscow's election interference, all while brushing aside warnings that Putin should be viewed as an adversary.
"The summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media," Trump wrote in a tweet. "I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed."
Several lawmakers urged the interpreter of Trump in his meeting with Putin to testify before Congress for what exactly the two leaders had said in the meeting.
Also, the two sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill have been increasingly enraged over the White House' ambiguity regarding Putin's request to interrogate several former US diplomats, including former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and his several colleagues, over their behaviours in Russia.
Earlier this week, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office reportedly requested the questioning of several of these individuals. The initiative was first voiced by Putin during his meeting with Trump. The White House was reported to be reviewing the demand.
Sanders said that "the President was going to meet with his team" over the issue and "there was some conversation about it, but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the US" during the Trump-Putin meeting.
The possible decision to allow Russian investigators to question US former diplomats sparked further fury on Capitol Hill. Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell said that if Trump allowed Russians to question McFaul, "you can count on me and millions of others to swiftly make you an ex-President."
Republican Senator Marco Rubio also urged the White House to "publicly and unequivocally rule it out". For his part, McFaul tweeted earlier that he expects the U.S. government to defend him and his colleagues "in public and private." Under mounting pressure, the White House later rejected Putin's request.