Senate

Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials

The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution warning President Trump not to let the Russian government question diplomats and other officials, shortly after the White House released a statement backpedaling on a proposal to allow Moscow to help interrogate U.S. citizens such as former Ambassador Michael McFaul.

{mosads}Senators voted 98-0 on the resolution spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii).

“That President Trump would even consider handing over a former U.S. ambassador to Putin and his cronies for interrogation is bewildering. …This body must agree on the importance of protecting our ambassadors. We should pass it today, not wait, not show any equivocation,” Schumer said ahead of the vote, which was scheduled before the White House backtracked.

The nonbinding resolution comes amid growing frustration in the Senate over the White House’s warmer stance toward Moscow, especially after the joint summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump earlier this week.

The potential that Trump could allow Russia to question U.S. officials had been in the headlines since the summit in Helsinki.

Putin said during a press conference with Trump on Monday that the Kremlin would permit special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to travel to Russia and attend the questioning of 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted in the probe, if Russia is allowed to help interrogate some people “who have something to do with illegal actions in the territory of Russia.”

The White House initially refused to shoot down the proposal. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that Trump was “gonna meet with his team” to talk about the potential for Russian officials to question U.S. citizens.

But Sanders on Thursday released a statement backtracking on the proposed arrangement.

“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,” she said in her statement.

The resolution, which the Senate voted on shortly after the new White House statement, states that the U.S. “should refuse to make available any current or former diplomat, civil servant, political appointee, law enforcement official or member of the Armed Forces of the United States for questioning by the government of Vladimir Putin.”

Democratic senators had been expected to ask for unanimous consent to pass the resolution, which would have allowed any one senator to block it. Two other Russia-related resolutions — one from Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and another from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — were blocked earlier Thursday

Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set up the Thursday afternoon vote, giving lawmakers the chance to go on record as they face intense pressure to pass new Russia legislation after the Helsinki summit and the indictment of 12 Russian nationals for meddling in the 2016 election.

A simple majority was needed to pass the resolution. Democrats, and some Republicans, had been highly critical of the idea of allowing Russian officials to come to the U.S. for interrogations. 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), while calling the resolution “somewhat meaningless,” summed up the proposal as a “bad idea.”

“I have no idea how that’s even come into consciousness,” Corker said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a sometimes ally of the president’s, told The Hill on Thursday that allowing Russia to question Americans would be “absurd and naive.”

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, dismissed the potential agreement as “terrible” offer.

“There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” Sanders said. “The president will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”

Russian state media reported that McFaul and Christopher Steele, author of the so-called Steele dossier, are among those whom Russia wants to question as part of its investigation into Bill Browder, an American-born financier who lobbied on behalf of legislation that imposed sanctions against Russia. 

Updated: 8:57 p.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bob Corker Bob Menendez Brian Schatz Charles Schumer Christopher Coons Dick Durbin Donald Trump Jeff Flake John Cornyn Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Robert Mueller

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