Donald Trump says he would invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to White House, but not now


US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States President Donald Trump, who is fighting off allegations of ties between his election campaign and Moscow, said he would invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House but added that now was not the right time for that.

The Republican President drew criticism last week from Democrats who accused him of not pressing Mr Putin hard enough at a meeting they held in Germany over Moscow's alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign.

Accusations that Moscow meddled in the election and colluded with the Trump campaign have dominated the President's months in office. Russia denies meddling and Mr Trump says there was no collusion.

His comments came as he defended his eldest son Donald Trump Jr, who met a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign after he was told she might have damaging information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

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Mr Trump told Reuters on Wednesday (July 12) that he did not know about his son's meeting until recently. But in a conversation with reporters later that day, he said that "in fact maybe it (the meeting) was mentioned at some point", adding he was not told it was about Mrs Clinton.

Mr Trump has said he wants to work with Moscow on issues such as Syria and told reporters travelling with him on Air Force One to Paris that he was open to the idea of inviting Mr Putin to the White House at some point.

"I don't think this is the right time, but the answer is yes, I would," when asked if he would extend such an invitation to the Russian leader. The comments were released by the White House on Thursday.

'DID YOU DO IT?'

US intelligence agencies said earlier this year that Russia sought to help Mr Trump win the election by hacking private e-mails from Democratic Party officials and disseminating false information online.

Mr Trump said in the Reuters interview on Wednesday that he had asked Mr Putin last week if he was involved in Russian interference in the campaign, spending the first 20 or 25 minutes on that issue during a meeting that lasted more than two hours.

"I said, 'Did you do it?' And he said, 'No, I did not. Absolutely not.' I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not," Mr Trump said.

Washington this week has been fixated on e-mails disclosed by Mr Trump Jr showing him eagerly meeting lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year - the most tangible evidence of a connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, a subject that has also prompted an investigation by a federal special counsel.

Mr Trump Jr was told by an intermediary that the lawyer had information that was part of Moscow's official support for his father's campaign.

In Paris on Thursday, the US President said nothing of substance came of the meeting. "My son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer but a Russian lawyer. It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast," he said at a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Trump said it was normal in US politics for campaign teams to look into allegations about their opponents, as his son agreed to do before the meeting in June 2016.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, a Republican, planned to send a letter on Thursday to the younger Mr Trump to ask him to appear before his committee in a public session, CNN reported.

US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top-ranking Republican in Congress, urged Mr Trump Jr to testify, saying: "I think any witness who's been asked to testify in Congress should do that."

Watchdog groups have filed a complaint against Mr Trump Jr, Mr Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign chief Paul Manafort on Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, which oversees elections, arguing that the three violated the law by meeting the Russian.