The White House confirmed Wednesday that Trump could allow Russia to 'interrogate' Putin's top critics.
The fallout from Trump's appalling press conference with Vladimir Putin took a frightening turn Wednesday, when White House press secretary Sarah Sanders revealed Trump is considering a proposal to help Putin harass and threaten Americans.
The idea of letting Russia interrogate Americans first came up during talks between Trump and Putin on Monday. The proposal, which Trump referred to as an "incredible offer," would give Russian officials permission to question Americans accused by the Kremlin of unspecified crimes.
Those wanted for questioning include Bill Browder — a U.S.-born British citizen — and former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, both of whom are prominent Putin critics.
"The president is going to meet with his team and we'll let you know when we have an announcement on that," Sanders said Wednesday in response to a question about the proposal. She added that Trump "said it was an interesting idea" and wants to "determine if there is any validity that would be helpful to the process."
When Putin floated the idea, he presented in the context of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. In exchange for assisting Russia in its efforts to intimidate and prosecute critics of the Kremlin, Putin said he would allow Mueller's team to travel to Russia and be present during the questioning of 12 Russian intelligence agents charged last week for their role in carrying out cyberattacks targeting the 2016 presidential election.
At the time, Putin singled out Browder — an anti-corruption activist who successfully lobbied the U.S. government to impose new sanctions on Russia — and, without any evidence, accused him of laundering money out of Russia to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
"We have a solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers accompanied and guided these transactions," Putin claimed. "So we have an interest of questioning them. That could be a first step. We can extend also it. Options abound."
Trump responded by praising the preposterous idea, even citing it as some sort of proof that Russia didn't interfere in the 2016 elections.
"President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer," Trump said. "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."
The idea of American officials working with Russia to investigate Russia's attack on American elections is so patently absurd that it wasn't taken very seriously when it first came up on Monday.
But not everyone brushed off the proposal. On Tuesday, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office released what Politico referred to as "a wishlist of potential people to extradite," including Browder, McFaul, and officials from the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department.
And on Wednesday, the White House confirmed that Trump is actually considering handing over Americans — who also happen to be prominent Putin critics — to the Kremlin for "questioning" based on nothing but vague accusations of involvement in unspecified crimes.
The failure of the White House to categorically reject such a sinister offer prompted immediate outcry.
"If the U.S. would make a former diplomat avail for questioning by a foreign government without evidence of wrongdoing, then that would be quite horrifying,” Ron Neumann, a former ambassador to Afghanistan and current president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, told the Daily Beast.
As Reuters pointed out, any decision by the White House to provide assistance to an adversary's attempt to prosecute former government employees overseas "would be a stunning shift in U.S. policy" and "could violate the international legal principle of diplomatic immunity."
"If the White House cannot defend and protect our diplomats, like our service members, they are serving a hostile foreign power not the American people," warned former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice.
"What’s next, turning me over to al Qaida for questioning?" asked former CIA officer Nada Bakos.
Meanwhile, McFaul expressed his shock and fear in a series of tweets, writing, "When Trump says Russia is no longer targeting America, that’s not how this American feels. Putin is most certainly targeting and intimidating me. And I’m an American."
"I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin," he added. "Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy US indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin."
Prior to the Helsinki summit, many current and former officials expressed concern that Putin — a trained intelligence operative who was tapped to lead the FSB, an arm of the intelligence agency formerly known as the KGB — would manipulate Trump by preying on his vulnerabilities and appealing to his ego.
This incident, perhaps more than any other, proves just how valid those concerns are, while also raising new questions about what Putin might have on Trump that makes him act in such a subservient manner.
Given Putin's track record of intimidating, threatening, and even murdering those who speak out against him, the very thought that a U.S. president would grant Putin permission to interrogate Americans on his personal hit list is unfathomable — or at least it was, until Trump took office.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.