Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said he still doesn't know what happened in the one-on-one meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Coats made the comments in a revealing interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell on stage at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen Thursday, three days after Mr. Trump's widely criticized meeting and press conference with Putin.
The president appeared to side with the Russian leader over his own intelligence community's assessment on Russian election meddling. Although President Trump.
Coats said he hopes to learn more about the meeting, where only Mr. Trump, Putin and interpreters were present. "That is the president's prerogative. If he had asked me how that ought to be conducted I would have suggested a different way, but that's not my role, that's not my job," Coats said.
Coats said he felt the need to "correct the record" when he issued a statement Monday reaffirming that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The statement came after Mr. Trump appeared to doubt that assessment in the press conference alongside Putin.
"I was just doing my job," Coats said Thursday. The statement declared the intelligence community has been "clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."
In the same hour in which Coats declared Russia to be the most aggressive state actor attempting to interfere in U.S. affairs, emphasizing the need to be "ever-vigilant" and "relentless," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that Mr. Trump has asked national security adviser John Bolton to invite Putin to the White House this fall.
That appeared to be news to Coats. "Say that again?" Coats said when Mitchell announced the news at the end of the on-stage interview.
"Okaayyy," he added. "That's gonna be special."
That isn't the only thing Coats said he wasn't made aware of until the public was. Asked if knew Mr. Trump would meet with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office in May 2017, Coats, with a long sigh, said that was probably not the best thing to do, and he wasn't made aware of that meeting ahead of time.
A few days ago, Coats said America's digital infrastructure is at a critical point, comparing the current moment to the one before Sept. 11, 2001 and declaring that the warning lights are "blinking red."
Mr. Trump, asked by "CBS Evening News" anchor Jeff Glor on Saturday whether he agrees with Coats' assessment of the risks of a cyber attack, saidand would have to review that assessment. Asked by Glor again on Wednesday , Mr. Trump said he would accept Coats' conclusion.
When CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett asked on Wednesday whether the president believes Russian meddling is happening, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said "not specifically," since "there's currently not an election today."
"Well, since there's currently not an election today, not specifically, but we certainly believe that we are taking steps to make sure they can't do it again," Sanders said.
Coats' remarks come hours after a Microsoft executive told the conference his company believes Russians launched a phishing attack on three midterm candidates. Microsoft executive Tom Burt declined to say who the candidates are, but his remarks Thursday emphasized what Coats has already said — that Russian meddling is an ongoing threat.
Coats on Thursday also declined to discuss whether he's ever considered resigning.
After a long pause, Coats said, "That's a place I don't really go to publicly."