WASHINGTON – America, get ready for more news about Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – and not just because the two of them are planning a second meeting.
Trump has invited his Russian counterpart to Washington for another summit this fall, possibly at the White House, aides said Thursday, so there's yet another reason the nature of their relationship will continue to be a big story.
Through congressional hearings, government leaks, political campaigns, a special counsel and planning for the next summit, we might learn more about what really happened between Trump and Putin at their secret Helsinki sit-down. We also might get more insight into what the Russians did during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump would just as soon like to see the furor over his performance in Helsinki fade. He tried this week to walk back his suggestion at Monday's post-summit news conference that he believes Putin's denials over U.S. intelligence assessments that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump.
Then again, Trump insisted the Putin summit was a success as he announced the yet-to-be-formally-scheduled followup with Putin in Washington.
"I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed" in Helsinki, Trump tweeted. What those things are, we're still hoping to find out.
Here's what to watch for:
Next week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear from a key figure in Trump's Russia policy: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
One topic is Trump's dealings with another foreign authoritarian leader, North Korea's Kim Jong Un. Lawmakers are also sure to ask about what transpired between Trump and Putin when they met in secret for more than two hours Monday in Helsinki.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the chamber's top Republican, has asked two committees to hold hearings on Russian sanctions. Those sessions are likely to focus on Trump and Putin, as well as Russian hacking and fake news operations in the U.S. presidential race.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is ready for hearings. "I take a back seat to no one on pressing this administration for some of the worst things that I’ve seen happen in public as it relates to our country," he said.
Officials in Congress and throughout the Trump administration are likely to be talking about Putin as well. They may include members of the intelligence community who feel burned by Trump and are in a vengeful mood.
Case in point: A New York Times story Thursday cited unnamed sources who dished that two weeks before his inauguration in 2017, Trump "was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election." The story went on to talk about how Trump didn't seem to want to believe that Russia may have helped him win the presidency.
Special counsel Robert Mueller
The latest frenzy over Trump and Putin takes place amid signs that special counsel Robert Mueller is near a turning point in his Russia investigation.
Just last week, three days before the sit-down in Helsinki, Mueller secured indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers. They are charged with a hacking scheme that targeted the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign of 2016.
Mueller is also seeking testimony from Trump himself, who has so far fended off any requests while claiming the investigation is a partisan "witch hunt."
One alternative for Mueller? An unprecedented subpoena of a sitting president.
There will be big Putin-related coverage whenever that standoff is resolved.
Ever since the night of Nov. 8, 2016 – Election Day – Democrats have wanted to know more about Russian election activity (and whether Trump or his aides were somehow involved).
They're not going to pass up the chances offered by the mystery surrounding the Trump-Putin summit. Some want to make Trump and Putin issues in the upcoming November elections to decide control of the House and Senate; a Democratic takeover of either body means even more Russia hearings.
"President Trump has put our country in a foreign policy crisis," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the Democratic minority leader.
Trump has always had his critics within the Republican Party, such as Arizona's twinned senators John McCain and Jeff Flake.
This time, even normally supportive Republicans are seeking answers about Trump, Putin and Russia, and their concerns are likely to drive the story further.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, even raised the prospect of having the intelligence committee talk to Trump's interpreter at the Putin meeting. Ernst said the president should never be in such a meeting without a witness.
"We don’t know what follow-up actions, if any, are out there," Ernst said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "We don’t know what the president’s demands are. We don’t know what Putin’s demands are.”
Even before the Trump-Putin meeting, Republicans expressed concern over Trump's criticisms of NATO and the European Union. They seemed to underscore Putin's goal of dividing Western alliances he sees as rivals.
Congressional Republicans are working on bills that would put more sanctions on Russia if it tries to interfere with the November congressional elections.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., co-sponsor of a new sanctions bill, said that "we must make sure Putin understands that we will not overlook his hostilities, and he will face punishing consequences if he tries to interfere in our elections again."
Throughout all the criticism, all the skepticism, all the news coverage, Trump declared the Putin meeting a success.
He also bashed "fake news" for its coverage.
There's no reason to think he will stop promoting what he calls improved ties with Russia, even amid suspicion about his relationship with Putin.
There's also that second summit, possibly at the White House itself.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders tweeted Thursday that Trump asked National Security Adviser John Bolton "to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall, and those discussions are already underway."
She did not say whether that meeting will take place before or after the November elections.
"The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media," Trump tweeted as he announced a second Putin meeting with an agenda that includes stopping terrorism, reducing nuclear weapons and preventing "cyber attacks."
Said the president: "There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems...but they can ALL be solved!"