Lawmakers condemn White House suggestion that Kremlin could interrogate former US ambassador
ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Lawmakers and former intelligence officials are expressing outrage over the White House suggesting it is considering a proposal from the Kremlin to potentially interrogate a group of Americans including a former U.S. ambassador.
In an exchange during the White House briefing Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Sanders would not rule out the possibility that the U.S. could provide Russia access to a group of Americans they have accused of being involved in a criminal plot.
Asked whether the president would actually entertain the idea of having U.S. persons questioned by Russia including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, Sanders said no agreement was made yet, but acknowledged that it was indeed a topic of the president’s two-hour private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
“There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” Sanders said. “And the President will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”
However, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert was soon after asked about Sanders’ comment and shot down the “assertions by the Russian government” that it could question 11 American citizens as “absurd.”
“I can’t answer on behalf of the White House with regard to that,” 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 about those American citizens – we do not stand by those assertions that the Russian government makes.”
Putin first raised the idea of the Kremlin being provided access to question U.S. citizens in his press conference alongside Trump, where he openly accused American-born British financier Bill Browder of funneling illegal donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Browder is a long-time Putin critic and whistleblower on Russian tax fraud who is credited with helping push Congress to pass the 2012 Magnitsky Act that has resulted in sanctions against top members of Putin’s inner circle.
Putin suggested in the Monday press conference that he would consider permitting Robert Mueller’s prosecutors in the Russia investigation to potentially interrogate the 12 Russian officials indicted last Friday for meddling in the 2016 election in exchange for Russia being able to question “some intelligence officers” who “accompanied and guided” Browder in his alleged transactions.
The Kremlin later named former ambassador McFaul, among other Americans, as on their list of specific persons of interest.
Even as his State Department has dismissed the charges, standing alongside Putin Trump did not push back on his claims and described the idea of connecting the Kremlin with Mueller’s investigators as “an incredible offer.”
Sanders has not responded to follow up questions from ABC News as to whether the proposal is indeed under serious consideration.
Lawmakers and former intelligence officials have so far been unsparing in their criticism of the idea.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., the ranking member of the CIA Subcommittee for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, went as far to say that Trump could be impeached if he sought to hand over any U.S. citizens to Russia.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, in turn slammed the suggestion and called for the White House to “unequivocally rule it out.”
Speaking on Good Morning America Thursday, President Trump’s former Homeland Security Advisor and ABC News contributor Tom Bossert said he agreed with critics who have called the idea “appalling.”
“In fact, it’s galling really because having seen the evidence, especially that I’ve seen, there’s no investigative benefit to that,” Bossert said. “It just benefits Russia and clouds the matter a little bit.”
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