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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Rand Paul speaks Monday with Russian official Konstantin Kosachev in Moscow. Paul said a letter he delivered from President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed “the importance of further engagement in various areas.”

MOSCOW -- U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has delivered a letter from President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader's spokesman said Wednesday.

The Kentucky Republican, who defended Trump in the wake of his summit with Putin last month in Helsinki, has been visiting Russia with a delegation for several days.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin has not yet examined the letter Paul presented.

"We expect that in the nearest time it will come to the presidential administration," Peskov said, according to Russian news agencies.

Paul said on Twitter that "the letter emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas, including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges."

However, deputy White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said the missive was a "letter of introduction" that Trump had written at Paul's request and "mentioned topics of interest that Sen. Paul wanted to discuss with President Putin." There has been no indication that a Putin-Paul meeting would occur.

Regardless of who initiated the letter, it comes as Trump faces mounting scrutiny over a private meeting he held with Putin in Helsinki, the details of which even Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats claimed to have no full knowledge of weeks after the summit.

It is also the latest example of Paul making overtures to Russian officials that are out of step with congressional GOP leaders, who have not blessed his visit.

Paul is not the first U.S. lawmaker to visit Russia in recent weeks: last month, eight congressional Republicans traveled to Moscow and met with high-ranking officials, including senior members of Russia's parliament and the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

But earlier this week, Paul extended an invitation to Russian lawmakers to visit Washington, D.C., in an effort to prompt exchanges between the two countries' parliamentary bodies.

Paul extended that invitation without the endorsement of congressional leaders, who stressed through spokesmen this week that they had not invited any Russian lawmakers to Congress, and Paul was acting on his own.

Last month, Trump extended an invitation to Putin to come to Washington, D.C., but both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., were adamant that he would not be welcome at the Capitol.

Information for this article was contributed by Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post; and by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 08/09/2018

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