Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is defending a controversial secret visit to the United States by Russian spy chiefs — including one under U.S. sanctions imposed in 2014 to punish Russia for its annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had raised questions about late January meetings between U.S. officials and the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergy Naryshkin, and Alexander Bortnikov, head of the domestic Federal Security Bureau (FSB), the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB. Naryshkin would have needed special approval from the Trump administration to gain entry to U.S. soil.
The visit came days before the executive branch missed a deadline to impose new sanctions on Russia because of its alleged interference in the 2016 elections.
In a letter to Schumer, Coats says the meetings focused on counterterrorism cooperation. The letter does not explicitly address whether the visit included a discussion of the sanctions or of Moscow’s alleged meddling in the vote that brought Trump to power.
“While the U.S. IC [intelligence community] has maintained communications with Russian intelligence on counterterrorism in an effort to help ensure the safety of our citizens around the globe, rest assured that I and the entire IC fully recognize that Russia remains an adversary in many areas, including its ongoing influence campaigns that seek to sow dissent and undermine faith in democratic institutions,” Coats wrote.
“We are never shy about discussing areas of disagreement in these engagements, and I assure you that our Russian counterparts are fully aware of our views regarding their inappropriate activities in the 2016 election,” he told Schumer in the letter.
The message from Coats largely echoed a similar defense made earlier this month by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The Russians met with each U.S. official separately, according to news reports.
Russia disclosed the visit in late January via the state-run ITAR-Tass news agency. Russia’s embassy to Washington tweeted the report.
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