Days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announced he’d invited Russian lawmakers to visit Washington, D.C., he tweeted that he’d also delivered a letter on behalf of President Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “emphasiz[ing] the importance” of several foreign policy topics.
Now, the White House is telling a different story.
According to his tweet Wednesday morning, Paul, a member of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, was just the messenger during his recent trip to Moscow to visit with foreign officials, and the letter from Trump to Putin was simply a diplomatic missive from one leader to another.
“I was honored to deliver a letter from President Trump to President Vladimir Putin’s administration,” Paul wrote. “The letter emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges.”
I was honored to deliver a letter from President Trump to President Vladimir Putin’s administration. The letter emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) August 8, 2018
But Wednesday afternoon, the White House released a statement claiming instead that Paul had requested the letter, to introduce himself to Putin.
“At Senator Paul’s request, President Trump provided a letter of introduction,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement. “In the letter, the President mentioned topics of interest that Senator Paul wanted to discuss with President Putin.”
Weird WH statement on the letter Rand gave to Putin
“At Senator Paul’s request, President Trump provided a letter of introduction. In the letter, the President mentioned topics of interest that Senator Paul wanted to discuss with President Putin.”
— Sam Stein (@samstein) August 8, 2018
The conflict between the two statements has left political analysts confused. Given Trump just met with Putin in Helsinki a few weeks ago, and the two have also shared private phone calls since then, it’s unclear why the U.S. president would need to communicate with Putin via letter.
As CNBC correspondent John Harwood noted, a letter of introduction for Paul doesn’t make much sense either, especially since Paul recently ran for president himself.
A Russian embassy spokesman confirmed with ThinkProgress on Wednesday afternoon that Putin had not yet read the letter, which was passed to him through diplomatic channels.
why would a prominent United States senator who recently ran for president need a letter of introduction? https://t.co/E1lSyn2Hvl
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) August 8, 2018
Paul has frequently found himself the center of controversy recently. Explaining why he met with Russian officials in Moscow on Monday, amid an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Paul insisted that “engagement” was crucial to national security and international peace efforts.
“Today, I met with Chairman Kosachev, and we agreed on the importance of continued dialogue,” he stated, referring to the foreign affairs leader in Russia’s Federation Council, the country’s upper parliamentary house. “I invited the Russian Federation to send a delegation to the Capitol, and they have agreed to take this important next step.”
Paul did not mention that Kosachev had insisted in that meeting “there was no [Russian] interference in 2016” and that “there of course will not be any interference in the elections this year,” echoing Putin himself.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee responded to Paul’s statement Wednesday, saying his committee had extended no such invitation. Paul’s senior adviser, Doug Stafford, shot back later that day, saying Paul was “acting in his role as a Senator and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and in cooperation with President Trump and the State Department,” a claim the State Department would not immediately confirm.
Following Trump’s overly-friendly press conference with Putin last month, Paul once again became the target of criticism after leaping to Trump’s defense, as other Republican lawmakers condemned the president’s conciliatory approach.
“If we have proof that [Russia meddled], we should spend our time protecting ourselves instead of having this witch hunt on the president,” he said during an interview with CNN at the time, referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well allegations of collusion against Trump and his associates.
“I think we need to be done with this so we can protect our election,” he added.
Trump has also repeatedly called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” rejecting the consensus of eight different intelligence groups who say Russia meddled in the election, likely to swing the results in Trump’s favor, and that it continues to try to disrupt U.S. elections to this day.