Just the Facts

Five Facts on Russian Attempts to Question Americans

By No Labels
July 19, 2018 | Blog

During their Monday summit in Helsinki, Finland, President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin discussed the possibility of reciprocal interrogations.  In exchange for giving the U.S. access to Russian nationals indicted for meddling in the U.S. presidential election, Russian investigators would be granted access to 11 U.S. officials, including a former American ambassador to the country. Although President Trump initially suggested openness to the idea, he appeared to reject it Thursday afternoon. Here are five facts on Russian attempts to question Americans.

During Monday’s Helsinki Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered special counsel Robert Mueller access to interviews with 12 Russian citizens in exchange for the interrogation of various former U.S. officials

Although Russian government officials would conduct these interrogations with the 12 Russian citizens in question, the Kremlin would allow Special Counsel Mueller’s team to observe the interrogation of Russian spies indicted for hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016. In exchange, the U.S. would allow the Russian government to question 11 U.S. officialsincluding former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul.

The Russian government wants to question 11 U.S. citizens, including former U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul

Michael McFaul served as the American ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. He drew the ire of Vladimir Putin due to his criticism of various human rights violations on the part of the Russian government.  Another one of Putin’s targets is American-British investor, Bill Browder, who was the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005. However, following the death of Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian national who died in a Russian prison after uncovering a $230 million fraud committed by Russian government officials, Browder has led a movement to expose corruption and human rights abuses in the country. A representative of the State Department called Putin’s request to question Americans “absolutely absurd,” while McFaul himself stated Trump’s consideration of the offer was “lamentable.”

President Trump announced he was opposed to Putin’s proposal the day after White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated the president would consult his national security team on the suggestion

Yesterday, during a press briefing that focused heavily on the Helsinki summit, Sanders commented, “He [President Trump] said it was an interesting idea. He didn’t commit to anything,” and continued, “he wants to work with his team and determine if there’s any validity that would be helpful to the process.”  Today, the White House released a statement saying that the proposal “was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it.”

While the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, they did sign a treaty regarding mutual legal assistance in 1999

Under certain circumstances, this treaty requires either country to help the other in obtaining testimony, serving documents, locating individuals, and seizing assets. This agreement requires that any action being investigated is considered a crime in both countries— a requirement that was covered by Mueller’s indictment in its charges regarding “aggravated identity theft” and “conspiracy to launder money.” The treaty has been used before, as noted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the 2005 case where a “former [Russian] nuclear energy minister was extradited from the United States to Russia and sentenced by a Russian court.” However, it isn’t clear if the treaty applies to this situation, as it disregards any obligation that “would prejudice the security or essential interests of the requesting party.”

On July 19, the Senate approved a nonbinding resolution opposing Putin’s proposal for Russia to question U.S. officials 

On Thursday afternoon, the Senate passed 98-0 a nonbinding resolution that affirmed the Senate’s opposition to foreign governments questioning American officials. The unanimous support for the bill highlights the strong bipartisan opposition to President Putin’s proposal.  In addition, Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced another bipartisan resolution designed to support the U.S. intelligence communities’ assessment that Russia meddled in the U.S. election.


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