White House: Trump ‘disagrees’ with Putin’s request to question Americans

The White House on Thursday backed off a proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin to question U.S. citizens over alleged crimes in Russia after initially indicating President Trump would consider the matter.

“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

{mosads}The White House response comes after almost 24 hours of criticism from Democrats, Republicans and former diplomats that added to the hailstorm of criticism Trump has received over his meeting with Putin in Helsinki earlier this week.

It also marks the third time in as many days where Trump or the White House has walked back or clarified comments the president made in relation to his meeting with Putin that frustrated or flabbergasted lawmakers.

Trump on Tuesday had to reiterate his confidence in the U.S intelligence community’s assessment that Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election after casting doubt on that conclusion the day before.

On Wednesday, Trump appeared to say “no” to questions about whether Russia still posed a threat to the U.S., prompting the White House to clarify hours after that the president was trying to say “no” to taking additional questions.

Sanders’s statement on Thursday was issued less than an hour before the Senate, in a rare display of bipartisan unity, passed, 98-0, a resolution that warns Trump against handing over former U.S. diplomats to Russia.

Putin suggested during Monday’s meeting with Trump that he would let U.S. law enforcement travel to Russia and observe the questioning of 12 Russian intelligence officials indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe in exchange for Russian authorities being allowed to question U.S. citizens “who have something to do with illegal actions in the territory of Russia,” including Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

Trump initially called it an “incredible offer” at Monday’s joint press conference with Putin. His comments gained more widespread attention among lawmakers on Wednesday, when Sanders said at a press briefing that the president would discuss Putin’s offer with his team.

However, the president appeared to be increasingly on an island in his consideration of Putin’s proposal.

In an interview shortly before the White House reversal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bluntly shut down any consideration of Putin’s request.

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” he said, one day after the State Department called the request “absurd.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray chuckled when asked about the potential quid pro quo during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday night.

“I never want to say never about anything, but it’s certainly not high on our list of investigative techniques,” Wray said, prompting laughter and cheers in the room.

On Thursday, Democrats, former diplomats and some Republicans seemed confounded that the White House would even consider the idea.

Multiple lawmakers and ex-diplomats acknowledged it was unlikely the U.S. government would make its own citizens available to Russians for questioning, but warned that the appearance of considering the offer sends a troubling message.

“The concept of allowing the Russians to interview a former ambassador of Russia, the United States ambassador to Russia is absurd. And the concept of letting American citizens be investigated for crimes that are just, I think are jokes, is absurd,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters.

“I challenge you to find one member of the House and the Senate that believes this is a good idea,” Graham added. 

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called it “dangerous” to even entertain Putin’s offer.

A group of House Democrats wrote to the president on Thursday, urging him to denounce the “preposterous offer” and saying it “defies belief” that the U.S. government would allow Russian investigators to conduct business on American soil.

“Certainly that would be a pretty phenomenal scene watching McFaul being put onto a plane to go interview in Moscow, or any Americans for that matter,” said Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee.

“I can’t imagine that ever happening,” he added. “So I don’t think it is worth speculating on.”

McFaul has been outspoken in the past 24 hours, urging the president to walk back yet another statement in the aftermath of his meeting with the Russian president and warning it damages his credibility in the diplomatic community.

“The president of the United States needs to come out and categorically denounce it. It’s crazy. Maybe he doesn’t understand it,” McFaul said Thursday morning on MSNBC.

“I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but now he needs to correct the record and stand up strong,” McFaul added. “What the president doesn’t understand, he looks weak in the eyes of Putin when he doesn’t push back on elementary things like that.”

Updated at 3:31 p.m. Olivia Beavers contributed.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Lindsey Graham Mike Pompeo Robert Mueller Tom Rooney
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