CIA Director Mike Pompeo defends meetings with Russian spy chiefs
FILE PHOTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo

CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Thursday defended the practice of meeting with Russian spy chiefs, following reports that top U.S. intelligence officials last week met a Kremlin spymaster who is under U.S. sanctions.

"We periodically meet with our Russian intelligence counterparts for the same reason our predecessors did - to keep Americans safe," Pompeo said in a letter to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. There is nothing "untoward" about such meetings, he said.

"We cover very difficult subjects in which American and Russian interests do not align," Pompeo said. "We vigorously defend America in these encounters and pull no punches - we never will."

Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russia's foreign intelligence agency, held talks outside Washington last week with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other U.S. officials, two U.S. sources said. Naryshkin was sanctioned in 2014 as part of the U.S. response to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

(Reporting by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Chris Reese)