Guilty until proven innocent: US rejects Putin’s joint ‘interrogations’ plan to end Russiagate

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. Former Editor-in-Chief of The Moscow News, he is author of the book, 'Midnight in the American Empire,' released in 2013.
Guilty until proven innocent: US rejects Putin’s joint ‘interrogations’ plan to end Russiagate
Vladimir Putin’s offer to let US officials attend interrogations of Russian officials indicted by the ‘Russiagate’ probe has been rejected. It seems Capitol Hill lawmakers have no interest in fair trials when it comes to Russia.

Considering the unmistakable Liberal bent of the US mainstream media complex, which churns out anti-Trump, anti-Russia stories with more predictable homogeneity than a Pringles potato chip factory, the chances of the Putin-Trump summit winning any positive reviews back home was about slim to none.

And, as if to worsen those dismal odds even more, US Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, with timing so uncanny it could only have been premeditated, announced indictments against 12 Russian military intelligence officers for their alleged involvement in hacking the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

That bombshell, coming just days before the opening of the summit, appears to have knocked President Donald Trump off his horse in Helsinki, forcing him into a defensive posture. The reason is obvious: any talk of ‘Russia meddling’ in the 2016 presidential election works to delegitimize his presidency. In other words, according to the ‘Russiagaters,’ it was not due to the democratic will of the American people that Trump secured a historic victory, but rather some Russian Facebook and Twitter ads.

Putin, however, whose political fortunes are not swinging in the breeze of an intensely partisan witch hunt on the domestic front, offered to meet US officials “halfway” in an effort to close the ‘Russiagate’ case once and for all.

Pointing to the 1999 agreement between the US and Russia, entitled, ‘Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters,’ Putin reminded US officials that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is entitled to send a formal request to have those Russian citizens facing charges in the United States undergo questioning by the Russian authorities. He even offered to allow American officials to be present in Russia during the “interrogation” process.

“We can actually permit official representatives of the United States, including the members of this very commission headed by Mr. Mueller, we can lead them into the country and they will be present at this questioning,” the Russian leader said.

The second part of Putin’s offer came with a quid pro quo. Putin proposed that US authorities reciprocate and interrogate particular American citizens whom the Kremlin suspects of having engaged in illegal activities in Russia. And, as with the indicted Russians, the questioning of the Americans would take place in the presence of Russian officials.

Trump hailed Putin’s idea as an “incredible offer,” while at least one of his perennial critics back home slammed the President’s comments as "treasonous."

Putin went on to specifically mention a criminal case involving Bill Browder, a British investor who was sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison on fraud and tax evasion charges by a Russian court in 2017. Putin confirmed Browder “earned over $1.5 billion in Russia” – tax free.

“They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor the United States, and yet the money escaped the country,” the Russian leader noted. “They were transferred to the United States.”

Putin then made an explosive revelation, alleging that, of the money funneled out of Russia, a huge sum was donated by Browder’s associates “as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.” While admitting that the contribution in the exorbitant US political system “might have been legal,” the Russian leader emphasized that the way the money was earned “was illegal.”

Browder, who is currently living in England, branded the accusations “ludicrous.”

In reaction to Putin’s proposal, the howls of protest came fast and furious. One of the most vocal opponents was Michael McFaul, who served as US ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 under the Obama administration. McFaul, the first non-career diplomat to serve in such a capacity, is not entirely detached from the US-born British businessman. In May 2018, for example, when Browder was arrested in Madrid on a Russian arrest warrant, he called for Russia to be “expelled from Interpol.” 

The career academic, clearly unnerved by the prospect of being interrogated in the presence of Russian officials, requested information from the White House press pool in one of many Twitter posts devoted to the subject.

But is it really so “whacko” about having some high-ranking government officials, even former diplomats who worked under the aegis of immunity, answer questions about an ongoing investigation? Indeed, Mueller should view Putin’s offer as a golden opportunity to sit down with the indicted Russians and present the case against them, complete with all of the necessary evidence. At the same time, it would allow the accused Russians to have an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges, since the possibility of doing so in the United States, given the current political climate, would be impossible.

All things considered, Putin’s proposal provided all the necessary elements for a fair and unbiased case against the accused.

However, the fact that Trump won’t be able to implement such a plan due to the extreme acrimony back home - much of it pure hyperbole - seems to indicate that Putin called Mueller’s bluff. After all, if there was any ironclad proof of Russian involvement in the ‘hacking’ of the DNC servers, there would be no hesitation on the part of US officials to travel to Russia and present it.

Interesting how the ‘spirit of transparency and openness’ seems attractive only when it works on behalf of a particular political agenda.

In any case, Putin may get a second chance to float his idea of a joint investigation with US leaders soon enough. Even before Washington has had a chance to digest the Helsinki summit, Trump has already invited Putin to the White House for more discussions in the fall.

Load up on the popcorn, the show has only just begun.

@Robert_Bridge

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