CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday there was nothing “untoward” about his meeting with top Russian spy chiefs, saying that even though Moscow remains an adversary, ignoring chances to cooperate on security issues would endanger American lives.
Pompeo sent a letter on Thursday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who had raised questions about the meeting. Schumer said it was suspicious because it came just days before the Trump administration decided not to issue new sanctions at this time against Russian politicians and oligarchs over Russian interference in the election.
Pompeo told Schumer that U.S. intelligence officials meet periodically with their Russian counterparts to discuss various topics, including counterterrorism, aviation security and preventing foreign fighters from returning to both nations.
Pompeo did not identify the Russians he met with in Washington last week, but two U.S. officials identified them as Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, and Alexander Bortnikov, who directs the top KGB successor agency known as the Federal Security Service. The officials were not authorized to disclose the information and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The two Russian intelligence officials were sanctioned in 2014 in response to Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine — Naryshkin by the U.S. and Bortnikov by the European Union.
Schumer said sanctions against Naryshkin impose severe financial penalties and prohibit his entry into the U.S. without a waiver.
In his letter, Pompeo said the meetings with the Russians were not without discord.