Trump discussed Russia’s proposal to question McFaul, Browder, made no commitments - White House
The White House remained non-committal on the Russian proposal to allow investigators from both countries to question suspects under a 1999 treaty, which has the media and at least one former US official up in arms.
Russian President Vladimir Putin brought up the treaty during the press conference with US President Donald Trump in Helsinki. It would allow Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors to question alleged Russian intelligence agents accused of hacking Democrat emails, but would also give Russian prosecutors access to US officials allegedly involved with oligarch Bill Browder’s tax crimes - notably, former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul.
“The president is going to meet with his team and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at Wednesday’s press briefing.
Sarah Sanders says that "there was conversation" between Putin and Trump about Russian authorities questioning Bill Browder and Michael McFaul; Sanders said there wasn't a commitment made, but that Trump would "work with his team." (via CBS) pic.twitter.com/eXnUApGuZX— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 18, 2018
“There was some conversation about it but there wasn’t a commitment made on part of the US,” Sanders added. Pushed further, she added that Trump “said it was an interesting idea, but he did not commit to anything.”
The fact that Sanders did not immediately denounce the idea as absurd and protect McFaul was immediately denounced by Washington pundits and press.
Apparently we live in an alternate reality in which a human rights defender & former Ambassador are wanted by the Russian govt and the US does not IMMEDIATELY push back on these absurd demands.Of all the news in the past few days, this is the most shocking. @McFaul@Billbrowderhttps://t.co/wPl3WCqPOT— Nina Jankowicz (@wiczipedia) July 18, 2018
.@maggieNYT asks @WHPressSec abt Russia’s call to intv @Billbrowder & @McFaul: “Pres will meet w/ his team & we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that front.” Acknowledges the topic was discussed privately bween Trump & Putin.— Bianna Golodryga (@biannagolodryga) July 18, 2018
Wednesday’s question followed long hours of rampant speculation that handing McFaul over to Russia was one of the “deals” Trump had brokered with Putin in Helsinki. McFaul himself tweeted, “It sure looks that way right now.”
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called the Russian assertions against US citizens “absolutely absurd,” however.
After WH spox Sarah Sanders fails to reject Russian request to question former US Amb to Russia Michael McFaul, State spox Heather Nauert calls the Russian request "absolutely absurd" and "We do not stand by those assertions" the Russian government makes.— Jonathan Landay (@JonathanLanday) July 18, 2018
Browder is a British subject, having renounced his US citizenship in 1998 in order to avoid paying taxes on overseas investments. Two years prior, he set up Hermitage Capital Management to do business in Russia. Moscow has convicted Browder in absentia of massive tax fraud, and Putin said on Monday that some US officials may have helped the oligarch take millions of dollars out of Russia.
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