During the first White House press briefing in more than two weeks, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders didn’t rule out the possibility that President Trump will allow the Putin regime to question U.S. citizens — including a former American ambassador — whom Putin has accused of being involved in crimes.
“Russian authorities yesterday named several Americans who they want to question whom they claim were involved in Bill Browder’s quote unquote crimes, in their terms, including former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul,” Maggie Haberman of the New York Times began during Wednesday’s briefing. “Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned by Russia?”
“The president’s gonna meet with his team and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that,” she said.
Haberman followed up, asking whether allowing Russia to interrogate Americans was “a topic that came up” during Trump’s secret meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week.
Sanders confirmed it was.
“There was some conversation about it but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” she said. “The president will work with his team and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”
During his joint press conference with Putin on Monday, Trump described a proposal from Putin to allow Americans to be involved in Russia’s questioning of Russian hackers charged with interfering in the 2016 presidential election, in exchange for Russian involvement in the investigations of Americans allegedly involved in unspecified crimes in Russia, as “an interesting idea.”
Later, Trump described idea as “incredible.”
“What he did is an incredible offer — he offered to have the people work on the case, come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people,” Trump said. “I think that’s an incredible offer.”
As Politico detailed, at one point during the presser, Putin “pointed specifically to the case of American Bill Browder, an investor whose anti-corruption attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested and detained in Moscow and died after being held without trial for almost a year.”
Despite Magnitsky’s reportedly violent death and the Putin regime’s alleged role in recent murders and attempted murders on foreign soil, Trump seems unconcerned about the prospect of letting Russia question U.S. citizens — including former government officials and investigators who are working to shed light on the Kremlin’s attack on American democracy.
During an interview with Sean Hannity following the news conference, Trump went even further and said he was “fascinated” by Putin’s proposal.
“I was fascinated by it,” Trump said. “His prosecutors would prosecute it, and he said that Robert Mueller’s people could go with them.”
Later, Trump said Putin is “willing to take those 12 people… willing to let Robert Mueller’s people go over there, and bring a big investigation of those people, working together with Russian investigators.”
The only reservation Trump expressed is that the “12 angry Democrats” on Mueller’s team “probably won’t want to” travel to Russia and work with Putin.
Since Mueller has already charged more than two dozen Russian government agents with crimes, and the U.S. government does not typically allow its ambassadors to be interrogated by foreign investigators, suffice it to say that Trump’s interest in Putin’s offer is highly unusual.
At other points during Wednesday’s briefing, Sanders was evasive when pressed about what agreements, if any, Trump and Putin reached during their secret meeting.