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Donald Trump invites Vladimir Putin to visit Washington and 'looking forward' to it, says White House

Nick Allen
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki - AFP

Donald Trump has invited Vladimir Putin to Washington for a summit in the autumn amid a fierce backlash over his friendly stance towards Russia.

Mr Trump instructed John Bolton, his national security adviser, to make the invitation just days after the two leaders met in Helsinki, where they spent two hours alone with just interpreters.

The US president has faced widespread criticism after declining to publicly condemn Mr Putin over Russian interference in the 2016 US election when they appeared at a press conference in Helsinki.

Mr Trump said he was "looking forward" to the second meeting and they would discuss issues including nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, Israel, and North Korea.

It came amid growing opposition to Mr Trump's approach to Russia from the US intelligence community.

Dan Coats, Mr Trump's own Director of National Intelligence, said he still did not know what happened in the one-on-one meeting in Helsinki, and wished Mr Trump had not pursued it.

Mr Coats, who oversees the CIA, NSA and 14 other US intelligence agencies, was on stage at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado when he was informed of the planned Washington summit.

Looking surprised, he responded: "Say that again...OK that's going to be special."

US President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Meanwhile, it emerged that evidence of Mr Putin's personal involvement in attempting to disrupt the US election, through hacking of Democrat computers, had been presented to Mr Trump two weeks before his inauguration.

The CIA had a top secret informant close to Mr Putin who confirmed the Russian president’s role, the New York Times reported.

The information, and the source, were considered so sensitive that President Barack Obama's CIA director gave details to him in an envelope, separate from his daily presidential intelligence briefing.

Mr Trump was then briefed on Jan 6, 2017 at Trump Tower by US intelligence chiefs, but went on to repeatedly question whether Russia interfered in the election.

Trump and Putin | In talks

James Clapper, the former US director of national intelligence, who was at the meeting, said Mr Trump had listened with "some scepticism".

Mr Clapper said: "Anything that attacked the legitimacy, or questioned the legitimacy, of now-President Trump's election, he just couldn't get his head around.

"More and more I come to a conclusion, after the Helsinki performance and since, that I really do wonder if the Russians have something on him."

Asked whether the CIA had a source close to Mr Putin, Mr Clapper said: "I can't affirm or deny."

In an interview with US television Mr Trump said he was still determined to "get along" with Russia, which was a "good thing".

If his relationship with Mr Putin did not work out well then "I'll be the worst enemy he's ever had," the US president said.

He added: "Obama was a patsy for Russia, a total patsy".

Profile | Vladimir Putin

After another controversy in recent days Mr Trump also decided to reject a proposal, made by Mr Putin in Helsinki, that Russian investigators be allowed to question US citizens they suspected of crimes.

Those citizens included Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Moscow, who the Kremlin accuses of "illegal activities".

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, initially said on Wednesday that the idea was being considered.

That sparked a backlash, including from senior Republican supporters of the president. Mr Trump's own State Department called it "absurd," and Mr McFaul said it was "crazy".

On Thursday Mrs Sanders said: "It was a proposal made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it."