I'd Like to Say I'm Surprised By Putin's Request to Question a Former US Ambassador About Crimes but I'm Not

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul attends a meeting with members of the Russian Public Chamber in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, April 4, 2013. Relations between Washington and Moscow have been troubled in recent months by Russia's ban on U.S. adoptions and pressure on non-governmental organizations. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul attends a meeting with members of the Russian Public Chamber in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, April 4, 2013. Relations between Washington and Moscow have been troubled in recent months by Russia’s ban on U.S. adoptions and pressure on non-governmental organizations. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Another day, another ginned up kefuffle and Two Minutes Hate.

On Monday, I posted about an offer that Russia’s Vladimir Putin made to President Trump in Helsinki. He’d let US authorities interview the two dozen Russians that Robert Mueller has indicted if the US would allow his people to interview some Americans who are being scrutinized by Russian law enforcement. As I said at the time:

While this is simply Putin trolling Mueller and playing on Trump’s ego, it points to the recklessness of what Mueller has done in indicting Russian intelligence officers and criminalizing official acts committed on Russian soil. To try to prove to his fanbois that he’s actually doing something, he is potentially putting large numbers of US intelligence operatives at risk for reciprocal treatment.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

The White House is reviewing a request by Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow Russian investigators to question a number of Americans they say are implicated in criminal activity, including a former U.S. ambassador, a spokeswoman said.

The White House decision to weigh the proposal rather than dismiss it outright prompted alarm among former diplomats and on Capitol Hill.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed Wednesday that Mr. Putin and President Donald Trump discussed a desire by Russian authorities to question a number of U.S. citizens, including Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama who now lectures at Stanford University.

Asked at Wednesday’s daily briefing whether Mr. Trump was “open to having U.S. officials questioned by Russia” including Mr. McFaul, Ms. Sanders replied, “There was some conversation about it but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States. The president will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”

As ambassador, Mr. McFaul was an architect of Mr. Obama’s attempted reset with Moscow, but was sometimes critical of the Kremlin, a posture which brought intrusive Russian media scrutiny and official accusations that his mission was to undermine the country’s leadership.

Mr. Browder led a campaign to expose corruption and punish Russian officials whom he blamed for the 2009 death of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The U.S. subsequently passed the Magnitsky Act, which put sanctions on Russian officials for alleged human-rights abuses. That act has been a point of contention between the U.S. and Russia, and Moscow convicted Mr. Browder in absentia of financial crimes last year. Mr. Browder has maintained his innocence and called the trial a farce.

Mr. Putin said Monday that Russia wanted to question U.S. officials in the Browder matter. Alexander Kurennoi, a spokesman for the Russian attorney general’s office, told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday that Mr. McFaul is one of the Americans suspected of involvement in Mr. Browder’s purported illegal activities.

If you’ll recall, getting relief from Magnitsky Act sanctions was what the Fusion GPS operatives and current/former Russian intelligence assets Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin wanted to talk about. They were what former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak wanted to talk to Mike Flynn about.

By the time it was over, the White House custodial staff had to use a fire hose to blast the effluvia from the floor of the briefing room:

https://twitter.com/JamesFallows/status/1019668299980910593

This is the kind of smug elitism that drives me crazy. Just because he was a political appointee in a previous administration and not a terribly competent one, he is no more deserving of protection than that guy standing in line at WalMart in a MAGA hat. Perhaps less so. McFaul is the guy who was the architect of the policy that led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. For my money, if the Russians ask to question John Brennan and James Clapper along with him, I’d duct tape all three to seats on the next flight to Moscow…but it isn’t going to happen.

This is legally why it won’t happen:

McFaul is crying that the cut of his jib should protect him because he was a VERY IMPORTANT PERSON.

Unfortunately, the exact same facts actually applies to the Russians Mueller has indicted.  If McFaul is guilty of a “political crime” or has done something that is not “illegal” in the US, the same applies to the Russian GRU agents. The indictment of the 12 Russian intelligence officers for carrying out their national strategy while staying in their home country is actually more grotesque than the Russians accusing McFaul of being involved in criminal activities while US Ambassador and it exposes members of our own CIA/NSA/DIA cyber-operators to the same lawfare that Mueller has declared on the GRU.

Why has Russia waited until now to make this request? Very simple, this is payback for Mueller’s indictments. Are they wetting themselves right now over the confusion and consternation they’re causing? Absolutely. But to think Mueller’s indictment of Russian nationals is not the proximate cause of this gambit is ridiculous.

We have not seen the end of this. Eventually and inevitably a US intelligence officer is going to be indicted by a Russian court…and they really won’t be all that interested in the argument that our political meddling is more high-minded and wholesome than their political meddling…and they will be taken into custody in some, to coin a phrase, Third World Sh**hole, and end up in a guest room at Lubyanka. And we’ll be lucky if it only happens once.