President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin discussed the possibility of Russian authorities questioning Stanford professor and former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul ’86 MA ’86, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.
Sanders said that Trump “didn’t commit to anything” earlier this week in his private meeting with Putin, for which only interpreters were present. However, Sanders said, the president called Putin’s request to interrogate McFaul and 10 other American citizens – in exchange for U.S. participation in the questioning of Russia intelligence officers indicted for meddling in American elections – “an interesting idea.”
Sanders said the president would consult with his team before making a decision. Lawmakers and diplomats, meanwhile, were quick Wednesday to decry Putin’s proposal and Trump’s consideration of it as everything from “outrageous” to “batshit crazy.”
McFaul spoke out as well.
“I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin,” McFaul, who served as ambassador in the Obama administration, tweeted. “Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy US indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”
The Kremlin wants to interrogate Putin critic McFaul about “illegal activities” and as a “person of interest” in Russia’s investigation into financier Bill Browder MBA ’89. Browder, once a major investor in Russia, successfully lobbied for U.S. legislation punishing human rights offenders in the country.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said she could not speak on behalf of the White House but called the Russian government’s accusations against the American citizens in question “absolutely absurd.”
In a tweet, McFaul said he appreciated the State Department’s response and highlighted the gap between their message and the White House’s.
“Yet again, Trump has one policy towards Putin. Rest of administration has a second policy towards Russia,” he wrote.
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell said that Trump could be impeached if he turned McFaul over for questioning. Others such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, California’s Rep. Mike Levin, Virginia’s Sen. Mike Warner and former ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers also voiced their support for McFaul.
Some on Stanford campus weighed in too.
The Stanford College Republicans posted critically of Trump on its Facebook page, saying that no diplomat, “current or former, should ever be made available for interview or worse by a hostile foreign power.”