The United States’ top intelligence officer said on Thursday that he was just doing his job when he released a statement contradicting the president’s comments on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“It was important to take that stand on behalf of the intelligence community,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Thursday afternoon, adding, “I believed I needed to correct the record... Obviously I wished he had made a different statement."
“I was just doing my job,” Coats added.
Speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, President Donald Trump suggested that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, despite the intelligence community’s unanimous assessment to the contrary.
In a paper statement released on Monday after the president’s remarks in Helsinki, Coats said the intelligence community has “been clear in [its] assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Trump later reiterated his support for the intelligence community on Twitter, while adding that diplomacy between Russia and the U.S. must also be a priority.
With regard to Trump's nearly two hour, one-on-one meeting with Putin, Coats said he did not know what was discussed and took issue with Trump's decision to meet alone with the Russian leader.
"I would have suggested a different way, but that’s not my role," Coats said, adding that the "risk is always there" that Putin may have recorded the meeting.
Another diplomatic overture Coats had been unaware of in advance? President Trump’s decision to invite Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S. into the Oval Office during the Russian delegation’s May 2017 visit to the White House.
“Probably not the best thing to do,” Coats said of that decision by Trump. “I was not aware of that.”
Moments after labeling Russia “by far” the most aggressive foreign actor in cyber activity, Coats was told by moderator Andrea Mitchell that Putin "is coming to the White House in the fall."
Moments earlier, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted: "In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs. President Trump asked @AmbJohnBolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway."
In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs. President Trump asked @Ambjohnbolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway.— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) July 19, 2018
Coats laughed and told Mitchell, "Okay, that is going to be special."
Asked by a different reporter in the audience to clarify whether he was aware of the White House’s invitation to Putin to Washington this fall, Coats said frankly, “I think based on my reaction I wasn’t aware of that.”