Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Thursday that “obviously” he wished President Donald Trump had made a different statement about Russian election meddling while Trump stood next to the Russian president at a press conference earlier this week.
“What was your gut reaction watching him validate Vladimir Putin’s assessment over yours?” NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell asked Coats at the Aspen Security Forum.
“My thoughts there were that I believed I needed to correct the record for that, and that this is the job I signed up for, and that was my responsibility,” Coats replied. “Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement. But I think that now that has been clarified, based on his late reactions to this, and so I don’t think I want to go any further than that.”
Hours after Trump had equated his own intelligence community’s long-held assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and Putin’s denial thereof, Coats issued a statement reasserting the U.S. government’s position.
“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” he said. “We will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Asked separately about Trump’s claim on Tuesday — while purportedly back-tracking from his Monday comment — that “it could be other people also,” Coats was dismissive.
“We know others have the potential capability,” Coats said. “But it’s undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on this.”
“I don’t know what happened in that meeting,” he said of Trump’s one-on-one meeting Monday, before the press conference, with Putin.
Coats said it was Trump’s “prerogative” not to have other American officials in the room with him, but “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. So it is what it is,” he said, adding in response to another question that “the risk is always there” that Putin recorded the meeting.
Separately, Coats said it was “probably not the best thing to do” for Trump to have invited the Russian foreign minister and ambassador into the Oval Office. He said he wasn’t aware ahead of time that Trump would invite them in.