Trump White House, Rand Paul Can’t Get Their Messages Straight About a Letter to Vladimir Putin

The White House has seemingly walked back a statement made Wednesday by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky saying that he delivered a letter to representatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the direction of President Donald Trump.

“I was honored to deliver a letter from President Trump to President Vladimir Putin’s administration,” Paul said Wednesday. “The letter emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges.”

But just hours later, a much different message came from the White House. Rather than the letter being sent from Trump to Putin, as suggested by Paul, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley claimed the letter was requested by Paul.

“At Senator Paul’s request, President Trump provided a letter of introduction,” Gidley said in a statement to NBC News. “In the letter, the President mentioned topics of interest that Senator Paul wanted to discuss with President Putin.”

Neither Paul nor Gidley could be immediately reached by Newsweek Wednesday for clarification on the conflicting messages.  

The mixed messages come as somewhat of a surprise considering Paul has been in Russia this week to continue diplomatic dialogue surrounding past and present Russian inference in American elections. The senator has met with Russian lawmakers, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Russian Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Konstantin Kosachev to discuss national security and election meddling issues.

“Engagement is vital to our national security and peace around the world,” Paul said in a statement Monday, adding that he invited Russian officials to visit Washington, D.C., in the near future to further discuss election interference. “I invited the Russian Federation to send a delegation to the Capitol, and they have agreed to take this important next step.”

The president had previously said he personally extended Putin a White House invitation for the fall but later announced the meeting would be postponed. Trump received major backlash from both political parties last month following his refusal to publicly confront the Russian president about his attempts to subvert the 2016 elections, something the intelligence community has said Putin ordered himself.

The president’s continued muddying of the waters over Russia’s involvement in cyberattacks against the U.S. and continued claims that the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller is a “witch hunt” has caused rifts with some of his own intelligence leaders, going against statements made by both FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats.

During a press conference featuring agency leaders from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and DNI, the intelligence leaders reaffirmed their beliefs about past and present Russian cyberattacks on U.S. elections and said election security was one of the administration’s “top priorities.”

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