- President Donald Trump discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin the possibility of allowing Russian officials to interview 11 Americans, in exchange for special counsel Robert Mueller to interview 12 Russians accused of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
- Russia’s list of interviewees included former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
- White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the two presidents discussed the possibility for McFaul to be interviewed, but added that Trump had not yet made a commitment.
- McFaul described the idea of allowing Russian prosecutors to interview him on grounds that he allegedly subverted the Kremlin as “outrageous.”
Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul described the White House’s consideration of allowing Russian prosecutors to interview him on grounds that he allegedly subverted the Kremlin as “outrageous.”
“Vladimir Putin has been after me for a long time even when I was ambassador,” McFaul told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Wednesday. “He’s done some outrageous things around the world, but even to our diplomats and even to me personally.”
“You can’t establish this precedent,” McFaul said. “You just have to push back on crazy stuff like that.”
The uproar follows President Donald Trump’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit on Monday. The two leaders floated the possibility of allowing Russian officials to interview 11 Americans, in exchange for special counsel Robert Mueller to interview 12 Russians indicted for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Russian prosecutors sought to include McFaul, who is accused of “illegal activities.” State-owned news outlets previously alleged McFaul had met with opposition activists to create unrest in Russia during his tenure as ambassador.
- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the two presidents discussed the possibility at the summit, but added that Trump had not yet made a commitment.
“The president is going to meet with his team and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that,” Sanders said.
But McFaul, who served as ambassador from 2012 to 2014 and has written a memoir describing Putin’s mission to discredit him, said he was alarmed that the White House would even entertain the idea.
“What I was totally flabbergasted by was that the White House would not defend me,” McFaul said. “I’m an American citizen, I worked for the government for five years, and it would have been so easy to bat it back.”
While Putin’s proposal was described by Trump as “an incredible offer,” current and former US officials sounded the alarm on what would be considered a deviation of diplomatic norm.
One current US diplomat, who said he was “at a f—— loss,” called the development a step back in US diplomacy, according to The Daily Beast.
“It’s beyond disgraceful. It’s fundamentally ignorant with regard to how we conduct diplomacy or what that means,” the diplomat reportedly said. “It really puts in jeopardy the professional independence of diplomats anywhere in the world, if the consequence of their actions is going to be potentially being turned over to a foreign government.”
- Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Lawmakers also piled on the criticism, with some suggesting it may be grounds for removing Trump from office.
“Take this to the bank, @realDonaldTrump: you turn over former U.S. Ambassador @McFaul to Putin, you can count on me and millions others to swiftly make you an ex-president,” Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a tweet.
Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California labeled the discussion “BATS–T CRAZY” and demanded Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “put a stop to this notion immediately.”
During a press briefing Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also called Russia’s allegations “absolutely absurd.”
“I can’t answer on behalf of the White House,” Nauert said. “But what I can tell you is that the overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd. The fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian government is making … we do not stand by those assertions.”
But as the White House considers the possibility, McFaul said he still had confidence that US officials will eventually deny Russia’s “crazy scheme.”
“I have confidence, I still do – in American government, the system, the Department of Justice,” McFaul said. “I don’t see how they will let this go forward.”
“For some reason, they didn’t get it right at the White House,” McFaul added. “I wish them well. I hope, maybe tomorrow, they’ll get a better statement out.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday evening.