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From Helsinki To Another Potential Meeting With Putin, A Look At Trump's Week


President Trump is spending this weekend at his New Jersey golf resort. And he's probably happy to get away after a pretty difficult week. It began with Trump's summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and it ended with the president calling for a second meeting with Putin, this time in Washington, D.C. In between, there was rare criticism of the president from members of his own party and repeated efforts at damage control by members of the president's staff. NPR's Scott Horsley reports from the White House.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: We still don't really know what Trump and Putin talked about during their private meeting on Monday. For two hours, it was just the two presidents and their interpreters, no other advisers present. We do know what happened later though when the two men faced a room full of reporters. Trump appeared to question the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: People came to me. Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this - I don't see any reason why it would be.

HORSLEY: It wasn't the first time Trump has expressed such doubts, but something about the setting - on foreign soil with a Russian president standing next to him - seemed to amplify the president's equivocation. Back home in Washington, Trump's fellow Republicans were quick to distance themselves.


PAUL RYAN: Let's be very clear just so everybody knows. Russia did meddle with our elections.


MITCH MCCONNELL: The Russians are not our friends. And I entirely agree with the assessment of our intelligence community.


BOB CORKER: I just felt like the president's comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover.

HORSLEY: That's House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. By Tuesday afternoon, Trump was backpedaling.


TRUMP: I realize that there is a need for some clarification.

HORSLEY: At the White House, Trump read a scripted message acknowledging Russia's election interference, adding in his own Sharpie edit that there was no collusion with his campaign. Trump also said he'd reviewed a transcript of the previous day's news conference and realized he should have changed one word from would to wouldn't.


TRUMP: The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia - sort of a double negative. So you can put that in. Then I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.

HORSLEY: But the negatives kept doubling. On Wednesday during a Cabinet meeting, Trump was asked if Russia is still targeting the U.S., and he appeared to say no. His spokeswoman was forced to walk that back a few hours later. The White House also reversed itself and said it would not allow Russian authorities to question a former U.S. ambassador shortly before the Senate voted unanimously to condemn that idea. Through all the ups and downs, Trump insisted his administration has taken a hard line against Russia. And just as he did in Monday's news conference, he tried to deflect blame onto someone else. Here he is speaking to CNBC.


TRUMP: Look at the sanctions I've put on. Look at the diplomats I threw out. Look at all of the things that I've done. Nobody else did what I've done. Obama didn't do it. Obama was a patsy for Russia.

HORSLEY: For all of his purported toughness, though, Trump continues to court Putin. He's in the process of inviting the Russian president to a second summit in Washington this fall. That idea appeared to catch Trump's director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, by surprise.


DAN COATS: Say that again.


HORSLEY: Coats was speaking at a security forum in Aspen yesterday when news of the Putin invitation broke. By this afternoon, though, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was defending the idea of a second summit as all to the good. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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