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Former U.S. Ambassador To Russia Opposed to Joint Interference Investigation

Jul 18, 2018
Originally published on July 18, 2018 8:14 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And here's something else that happened when President Trump met his Russian counterpart this week. Trump said Vladimir Putin had an interesting idea about cooperating on the investigation into Russia's interference in U.S. elections. Well, Russia has made it clear what it wants out of that deal - a chance to interrogate a U.S.-born businessman who has been a forceful advocate for sanctions against Russia, plus a former U.S. ambassador. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Obama's ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, is used to Kremlin disinformation campaigns, but this is something new. Russia's prosecutor general wants to interrogate McFaul and other former U.S. officials in a case against Bill Browder, a businessman who has campaigned for sanctions on Russia ever since his lawyer died in a Russian jail.

MICHAEL MCFAUL: The prosecutor general's spokesperson implied that I was being considered as a criminal in this investigation and that somehow in their cockamamie schemes that Bill Browder was laundering money out of Russia to help the Clinton campaign and I and several other former government officials were helping him doing it.

KELEMEN: Now, Ambassador McFaul is trying to find out if President Trump bought into this.

MCFAUL: I've reached out to government officials, yes. I'm just looking at my email right now, and so far, I've heard nothing from them - not one thing.

KELEMEN: During the news conference in Helsinki on Monday, President Trump said Putin made an incredible offer to give the U.S. access to 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of interfering in the 2016 elections.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer.

KELEMEN: But Putin made clear there was a quid pro quo, that Russian officials wanted to interrogate Americans linked to Browder. McFaul, who's at Stanford University, says he was amazed that Trump didn't push back.

MCFAUL: It's nuts. And, you know, to be honest, I'm disappointed that our government is not talking about it that way. It makes us look weak. It makes us look like we're buying into Putin's conspiratorial fantasies and they are for political reasons.

KELEMEN: The State Department calls the Russian allegations about McFaul and others absurd, but White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders would only say Trump is talking with his team about following up on the meeting with Putin.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: There was some conversation about it, but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the president will work with his team, and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front.

KELEMEN: Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Senator Bob Menendez, wonder if there are other secret deals they need to know about.

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BOB MENENDEZ: Pro-Kremlin media at this moment are putting out more information supposedly about agreements that were arrived by President Trump with President Putin than anything that I know as the senior-most Democrat on this committee, that as far as I know that any member of the committee knows and that the American people know.

KELEMEN: Another Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Jeanne Shaheen, wants to hear from the interpreter, the only other U.S. official in that room with Trump and Putin.

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JEANNE SHAHEEN: That translator is an official of the U.S. government. It is imperative that the American people and this Congress know precisely what the president shared or promised the Kremlin on our behalf.

KELEMEN: The committee will hear from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo next Wednesday, not only on Russia but about President Trump's June summit with North Korea's leader. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ MAKO'S "LOOK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.