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Confusion in Washington as Trump invites Putin to White House

Discussions are already under way, according to press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Donald Trump has invited Vladimir Putin to the White House this autumn for a second get-together in a move that appeared to catch even the US president’s top intelligence official by surprise.

Unbowed by swirling criticism of his Helsinki summit encounter with the Russian president, Mr Trump asked national security adviser John Bolton to invite Mr Putin, and “those discussions are already under way”, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Mr Trump had earlier tweeted that he looked forward to “our second meeting” as he defended his performance at Monday’s summit, in which the two leaders conferred on a range of issues including terrorism, Israeli security, nuclear proliferation and North Korea.

“There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems … but they can ALL be solved!” he tweeted.

News of the invite caught many in Washington off-guard.

“Say that again,” national intelligence director Dan Coats responded, when informed of the invitation during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“OK,” he continued, pausing for a deep breath. “That’s going to be special.”

A White House meeting would be a dramatic extension of legitimacy to the Russian leader, who has long been isolated by the West for activities in Ukraine, Syria and beyond and is believed to have interfered in the 2016 presidential election that gave Mr Trump the presidency.

No Russian leader has visited the White House in nearly a decade.

There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin to the invitation, but ambassador Anatoly Antonov said Moscow “was always open to such proposals. We are ready for discussions on this subject”.

The announcement came as the White House sought to clean up days of confounding post-summit statements from Mr Trump on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shake hands in Helsinki (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

His public doubting of Russia’s responsibility in a joint news conference with Mr Putin on Monday provoked withering criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats and forced the president to make a rare public admission of error.

Then on Thursday, the White House said he “disagrees” with Mr Putin’s offer to allow US questioning of 12 Russians who have been indicted for election interference in exchange for Russian interviews with the former US ambassador to Russia and other Americans the Kremlin accuses of unspecified crimes.

Mr Trump had initially described the idea as an “incredible offer”.

The White House backtrack came just before the Senate voted overwhelmingly against the proposal. It was Congress’s first formal rebuke of Mr Trump’s actions from the summit and its aftermath.

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