Trump ‘Looks Weak’ by Considering Putin’s Interrogation Idea, McFaul Says

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s willingness to entertain a request from his Russian counterpart to question a former U.S. ambassador makes him “look weak in the eyes of Vladimir Putin,” the Obama-era envoy said.

“We look like we won’t push back on outrageous, crazy ideas,” Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, said in an interview on MSNBC Thursday. “That is not even good for President Trump.”

Trump made no commitments to the Russian president when Putin raised the idea at a private meeting in Helsinki on Monday but is “going to meet with his team” about it, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday. Allowing the interrogation of a former American ambassador would be an unprecedented breach in protections traditionally provided to the nation’s diplomats.

‘Incredible Deal’

Putin proposed letting Russians observe interrogations of McFaul and other Americans. In exchange, U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller could send members of his team to watch Russian questioning of 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted by a U.S. grand jury last week in connection with hacking Democratic Party email accounts and disseminating those messages before the 2016 presidential election.

While McFaul’s name wasn’t mentioned at the news conference held by the U.S. and Russian leaders in Helsinki, Trump described Putin’s proposed reciprocal interrogations as an “incredible” deal.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the Aspen Security Conference on Wednesday that listening in as Russia interrogates suspects wanted by the U.S. is “certainly not high on our list of investigative techniques.” And letting Russians come to the U.S. to observe questioning, he said wryly, is “probably even lower on our list.”

McFaul said Mueller’s indictment is full of “data and evidence,” while he called the Putin allegations a “cockamamie scheme.” He said he has lawyers and legal avenues to block the move if Trump grants Putin access. He called the episode shocking and said it will have a dampening effect on diplomacy.

“What I fear, because President Trump is probably not as conversant in these issues as he should be, or most certainly as conversant as Putin is, is that he probably just nodded along,” McFaul said. “That’s just perfect for Vladimir Putin.”

McFaul, who teaches at Stanford University, had a rocky relationship in Moscow from the start of his time as ambassador.

In 2012, Russian state television and pro-government lawmakers accused him of stirring up unrest by meeting opposition activists days after taking up his post. Later that year, he was forced to apologize for calling Russia a “wild country” after journalists from state-run NTV channel followed him to a meeting with a human-rights activist in Moscow.

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