Pompeo to VOA: US Won't Allow Russian Questioning of Former US Ambassador
STATE DEPARTMENT —
The U.S. has no intention of allowing Russia to question Michael McFaul, Washington's former ambassador to Moscow and a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told VOA on Thursday.
"It’s not going to happen," the top U.S. diplomat said in an interview at the State Department.
Pompeo said Putin "made a proposal about a number of things during the course of the conversation" he had Monday at his Helsinki summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
"There were suggestions, comments, thoughts by President Putin with respect to that inquiry," Pompeo told VOA. "President Trump was very clear – we’re not gonna force Americans to go to Russia to be interrogated by the Russians."
The Russian leader proposed to let U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators fly to Moscow to interview 12 military intelligence officials indicted in connection with hacking into computers of Democrats working to defeat Trump in the 2016 election in exchange for Russian interviews of McFaul; an American-born British businessman, Bill Browder, who worked to get legislation passed in the U.S. and elsewhere to sanction Russia for human rights violations, and other Americans.
Browder was convicted in absentia for tax fraud in Russia and Putin claimed, without any evidence, that Browder laundered $400 million out of Russia and gave it to Trump's 2016 opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. No such political donation occurred.
McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 2012 to 2014 during the administration of former President Barack Obama, said on Twitter, "I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin. Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy U.S. indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin."
On Wednesday, there was a high-level disconnect within the Trump administration over a possible Russian interview with McFaul.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the unspecified Russian crimes against the Americans "absurd," suggesting that no questioning would be permitted. But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the idea of each country's investigators questioning people it wanted to in the United States and Russia was being weighed.
"The president's going to meet with his team, and we'll let you know when we have an announcement on that," Sanders said, adding that no one had made any commitment to accept Putin's offer.
By Thursday, Sanders said, "It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it. Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”
Russia and the U.S. do not have an extradition treaty and the 12 accused intelligence officials are not expected to be turned over to the U.S. for trial.
The reason for the confusion about questioning officials from the two countries came because Trump said Putin had made "an incredible offer" to him.
During Thursday's interview with VOA, Secretary of State Pompeo sought to clarify the U.S. stance on the issue, repeating such questioning would not be permitted.
"There’s been a lot of noise about that, I don't know why," Pompeo said. "Just the American people should rest assured.”
Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report