By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. director of intelligence Dan Coats said on Saturday he in no way meant to be disrespectful toward President Donald Trump with what he called his “awkward response” to news of a second planned Trump summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Coats issued a statement seeking to control the damage from an interview he gave at the Aspen Institute security forum in Colorado on Thursday in which he expressed surprise when the news broke that Trump was planning another Putin summit.
“Some press coverage has mis-characterized 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 said.
“I and the entire intel(ligence) 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,” Coats added in his statement.
Coats was on stage at the Aspen Institute taking questions when he was informed by Andrea Mitchell, the MSNBC anchor who moderated the event, about the second summit.
“Say that again. Did I hear you?” he asked, appearing amused. “OK, that’s going to be special.”
The White House had no comment Saturday on Coats’ statement on Saturday.
Coats’ appearance at the Aspen Institute had generated some frustration at the White House. One source said there was a belief that if Coats had been in Washington instead of Colorado, he would not have been surprised by the news.
Trump has drawn heavy criticism from both Republicans and Democrats over his summit last Monday in Helsinki, Finland, with Putin, when he seemed reluctant to blame Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Trump later made clear he supported the U.S. intelligence community’s findings about Russian meddling.
On Saturday, the Salt Lake Tribune published a letter from Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, that appeared to reject a suggestion from a columnist for the newspaper that he resign after Trump’s remarks in Helsinki.
“I have taken an unscientific survey among my colleagues, whom you reference, about whether I should resign. The laughter told me everything I needed to know,” the letter said.
A State Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment on Huntsman’s letter.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by James Dalgleish)