Dem: Trump 'signaling' to Putin that 'he’s still trying to be helpful'

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDem vows to probe 'why the FBI stood down' on Kavanaugh Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Senate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents MORE (D) says President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE could be sending a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin with recent comments that appeared to cast doubt on Russia's election interference.

Speaking on CNN's "New Day," Whitehouse said Tuesday that Trump could be letting Russian leaders know that he plans to be "helpful" to Russian interests in the future.

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"I don't know if he's sending a little flare up into the sky to show Putin and the Russians that he's still trying to lean their way whenever he can, to try to provide them just a little bit of cover, a little bit of signaling, but it's really hard to tell," Whitehouse said.

"It's a peculiar thing to say when all of the evidence is exactly to the contrary," he continued. "Including from his own attorney general, his own director of national intelligence, his own FBI, there's really no support for that kind of statement."

"The only thing that makes sense to me is that it's signaling. And he's trying to let Putin and his crew know that he's still trying to be helpful," the senator concluded.

Trump caused controversy this week after saying in a Reuters interview that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation is playing into Russian hands.

"I think it’s a disgrace. And they had played right into the Russians — if it was Russia — they played right into the Russians’ hands," the president said in the interview.

"I've decided to stay out. Now, I don't have to stay out, as you know. I can go in and I could ... do whatever, I could run it if I want," he added.

The president has attacked the Mueller investigation and cast doubt on the assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump was forced to walk back a statement last month after telling reporters during a joint conference with Putin that he didn't see any reason why it "would" have been Russians who interfered in the election.