IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump admin considers Putin request to question American diplomat

No other U.S. president would even consider turning over an American diplomat to Russia for questioning. But Donald Trump is ... different.
Image: APEC Summit 2017 in Vietnam
US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during a family photo session at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)...

It's increasingly difficult to be surprised by Donald Trump's presidency, but once in a while, the White House manages to take a position that seems truly bonkers, even by 2018 standards.

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.

At the top of Moscow's wish list, evidently, is Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia in the Obama administration (and who spoke with Rachel about these latest developments on the show last night).

Note, we're not talking about information from an anonymous source, leaking word of a ridiculous behind-the-scenes plan. On the contrary, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke about this, on the record, during yesterday's briefing.

A reporter asked, "Russian authorities yesterday named several Americans who they want to question, who they claim were involved in Bill Browder's 'crimes,' in their terms, including a former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned by Russia?"

Sanders responded that the president "is going to meet with his team" on this, adding that "there was some conversation" about this between Trump and Putin.

So to recap, Russia's authoritarian president has an obsessive grudge against a former U.S. ambassador, and wants access to this American for questioning. America's president, who seems unnervingly eager to make his Russian counterpart happy, should've dismissed the idea out of hand, but he's instead considering the possibility.

This all stems from what Trump considered an "incredible offer" from Putin.

At Monday's press conference in Helsinki, the Russian president acknowledged the recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials for their alleged role in attacking the American election. Putin said he's willing to allow U.S. officials to interview the accused, but he'd expect the Trump administration to "reciprocate" by giving Russians access to Americans that Putin's government doesn't like.

The whole gambit sounded quite ridiculous, which made it all the more jarring when Trump told reporters, "I think that's an incredible offer."

All of which brought us to yesterday, when the White House said the American president is weighing whether to allow Russian officials to interrogate an American citizen who, by all accounts, has done nothing wrong.

The Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman reported yesterday on the hair-on-fire apoplexy among current and former American diplomats, who expressed "disgust and horror" over the possibility.

One serving diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was "at a f**king loss" over comments that can be expected to chill American diplomacy in hostile or authoritarian countries -- a comment echoed by former State Department officials as well."It's beyond disgraceful. It's fundamentally ignorant with regard to how we conduct diplomacy or what that means. It really puts in jeopardy the professional independence of diplomats anywhere in the world, if the consequence of their actions is going to be potentially being turned over to a foreign government," the U.S. diplomat told The Daily Beast.

Any other president, from either party, at any point in American history, would've dismissed a proposal like this as madness. The fact that this White House is taking it seriously is a reminder of just how unique Donald J. Trump really is.

Update: This afternoon, the White House said the president does not support turning over Americans to Russian officials for questioning. Imagine the aggravation Team Trump could've saved itself by coming up with this position yesterday.