President Trump on Wednesday backed away from his plan to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the fall, citing the special counsel investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election.
National security adviser John Bolton said in a statement the next one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin will be “after the first of the year” and following the conclusion of the Russia probe, which he described as a “witch hunt.”
The president believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year,” Bolton said.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has not indicated he plans to wrap up the investigation by the end of the year. His team has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 individuals thus far.
The change of plans comes days after the Kremlin showed reluctance to stage another meeting between Putin and Trump in the fall, an invitation the White House extended on Thursday.
Putin adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow on Tuesday that the two governments agreed there was a need for another presidential meeting, but said Russia had not begun making plans.
“There are other options [to meet], which our leaders can look at,” he said, according to Reuters. Trump and Putin will both attend the Group of 20 economic summit in Argentina in November.
Trump was widely criticized for his meeting with Putin earlier this month in Helsinki, when he refused to publicly confront the Russian leader for interfering in U.S. elections and said the American government shares blame for tensions between the two countries.
Republican lawmakers urged the president not to go forward with his plans for another meeting and said that Putin would not be invited to the Capitol if he were to meet with Trump in Washington.
After expressing confidence in the U.S. intelligence community upon his return from Finland, Trump went on to tweet that Russian interference was a “big hoax.”
Shortly before Trump met with Putin, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said warning lights were “blinking red” that Russia was preparing another cyberattack.
Days later, Trump appeared to tell reporters “no” when asked whether he believes Russia is still a threat. The White House later said Trump was saying “no” to taking additional questions.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he is “concerned” Russia will try and meddle in this year’s elections. He claimed, without evidence that it would be in an effort to help Democrats because “they definitely don’t want Trump.”
However, Putin said during last week’s press conference that he wanted Trump to win because he had talked about normalizing relations with Russia.