Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, was named in a group of Americans whom Russian authorities seek to question. And when asked whether President Donald Trump would allow that idea to move forward, the White House refused to unequivocally condemn it.
“The president is going to meet with his team, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that,” was the response from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday when The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman asked whether the U.S. would allow questioning by Russian officials. “There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States.”
The idea sparked overwhelming resistance among diplomats, politicians from both parties and McFaul himself.
“Vladimir Putin has been after me for a long time even when I was ambassador,” McFaul told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday. “You can’t establish this precedent. You just have to push back on crazy stuff like that.”
One serving diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Beast that he was “at a fucking loss” over the proposition. “It’s beyond disgraceful. It’s fundamentally ignorant with regard to how we conduct diplomacy or what that means.”
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the exchange ― allowing the U.S. to question the 12 Russian officials indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe in exchange for letting Russia interview 11 Americans ― during a bilateral summit in Helsinki on Monday. Trump called this an “incredible offer.”
McFaul said he’s likely included on the list because the Kremlin is accusing him of having helped financier Bill Browder ― on Putin’s blacklist for exposing a $230 million fraudulent scheme that traces back to Putin ― launder money out of Russia to help fund Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Putin first raised the idea of the exchange by mentioning his interest in questioning Browder, who is also on that list (although Browder is now a U.K. citizen). Browder said that congressional staffers ― including Kyle Parker, who worked on the Magnitsky Act with Browder ― are on the list as well.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert backed McFaul up, saying Wednesday that this type of questioning “would be a grave concern to our former colleagues.”
This article has been updated to reflect that Browder said congressional staffers were on the list.