President Donald Trump rejected Thursday a proposal by Vladimir Putin to allow Russian officials to interrogate a former US ambassador and other American citizens, amid outrage across Washington that he would even consider it.
While Trump originally called the idea an ‘incredible offer,’ and continued to weigh it through Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said he has now decided against it.
‘It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by president Putin, but president Trump disagrees with it,’ Sanders said.
Putin unveiled the proposal in a joint press conference with Trump on Monday following their summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland.
Asked whether he would extradite 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted in the United States last week for hacking Democratic Party computers, he said he could meet the US government ‘halfway.’
‘We can actually permit official representatives of the United States... into the country and they will be present at this questioning’ of the 12 inside Russia.
‘Then we would expect that the Americans would reciprocate and they would question officials, including the officers of law enforcement and intelligence services of the United States ... who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia, and we have to request the presence of our law enforcement.’
For Russia, the focus of the quid-pro-quo was questioning former US envoy to Russia Michael McFaul and 11 others in Moscow’s case against billionaire investor and human rights activist William Browder, the driving force behind Magnitsky Act sanctions on Russian officials passed by the US Congress.
‘I think that’s an incredible offer,’ Trump responded in Helsinki.
McFaul expressed outrage on Wednesday when Sanders said Trump was ‘going to meet with his team’ to consider Putin’s proposal.
But on Thursday Sanders made clear a deal with Putin was not in the cards.
‘Hopefully president Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt,’ said Sanders.
‘It’s not going to happen,’ secretary of state Mike Pompeo echoed late Thursday.
Meanwhile, president Donald Trump has invited Russian president Vladimir Putin to Washington this autumn, the White House said on Thursday, a daring rebuttal to the torrent of criticism in the United States over Trump’s failure to publicly confront Putin at their first summit for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election, reports Reuters.
Four days after Trump stunned the world by siding with Putin in Helsinki over his intelligence agencies, the president asked national security adviser John Bolton to issue the invitation to the Russian leader, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
What happened at Monday’s one-on-one between Trump and Putin with only interpreters present remained a mystery, even to top officials and US lawmakers who said they had not been briefed.
Trump’s director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said in response to a question at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado: ‘Well, you’re right, I don’t know what happened at that meeting.’
The coveted invitation was sure to be seen as a victory by Putin, whose last official visit to the United States was in July 2007, when he spent two days at the Bush family compound.
Both Trump and Putin earlier on Thursday praised their first meeting as a success and blamed forces in the United States for trying to belittle its achievements, Trump citing discussions on counterterrorism, Israel’s security, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace and North Korea.
In one Twitter post, Trump blamed the media. ‘The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media.’
In Moscow, Putin said the summit ‘was successful overall and led to some useful agreements’ without elaborating on the agreements.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer criticized the invitation. ‘Until we know what happened at that two hour meeting in Helsinki, the president should have no more one-on-one interactions with Putin. In the United States, in Russia, or anywhere else,’ he said in a statement.
Coats, who on Monday roundly defended the intelligence agencies’ findings of Russian meddling, also advised against a one-on-one meeting with Putin, saying he ‘would look for a different way of doing it.’
An official visit by a Russian president to the United States is a rare event: the last time was in June 2010 with Dmitri Medvedev, now Russian prime minister.
A senior White House official said Bolton extended the official invitation to Putin on Thursday via his Russian counterpart. No date has been set and it was unclear whether it would be timed for the U.N. General Assembly in late September.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from North America