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Former U.S. Ambassador To Russia Says He Was Alarmed By Putin's Swap Proposal


An incredible offer - that's how President Trump described a proposal that Russian President Vladimir Putin made during their summit in Helsinki last week. Putin offered to let officials in Washington interview 12 Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 election. The price - the U.S. government would allow Russian officials to interview 11 Americans. On the list was Michael McFaul. He was U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, and he is also our guest in the studio right now. Welcome.

MICHAEL MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: You met yesterday with Fiona Hill, the National Security Council director for Russia. What did she say to you about where the Trump administration stands on Putin's proposal?

MCFAUL: Well, I don't want to discuss what we talked about. It was not just Fiona Hill, and I'm meeting with other government officials in other departments. I got the feeling, including things that have been stated publicly, that they are not going to allow U.S. officials to be interrogated with Russian observers in the room. That's the good news. The bad news is they haven't said this as strongly as I would like, and they haven't talked about the dangerous consequences of allowing us to be called criminals in Russian courts.

SHAPIRO: The Senate did vote 98-0 in a nonbinding resolution, opposing allowing people such as yourself to be interviewed by Russia. The State Department put out a public statement, but how concerned are you that this could actually happen? After all, President Trump has changed his position on various issues often.

MCFAUL: Well, I'm concerned about that. Thankfully I have legal recourse. They just can't hand me over for interrogation. I can take it to a court if it would come to that. I'm not that concerned about that right now given the groundswell of support for me that I did not expect, by the way. We don't get many 98-0 votes in the U.S. Senate anymore.


SHAPIRO: That's true.

MCFAUL: So that was a pretty fantastic thing. So I'm - I think it would be highly unlikely to do that, but here's what I really am worried about - that the Russians will go forward. They have - they allege that I have been involved in criminal behavior - me and the 11 others on that list.

SHAPIRO: Involving money laundering and other things.

MCFAUL: I mean, it's a crazy scheme that we somehow helped a U.K. businessman, Bill Browder, launder money out of Russia - $400 million, I think, is what Putin said, and then he gave it to the Clinton campaign. That's what he was talking about in Helsinki. It's crazy. There's no truth to it whatsoever, but here's the rub. There is no rule of law in Russia. There is no truth in Russia. It is an autocratic regime. And I've seen this done dozens of times to Russian dissidents who have been locked up. And we've seen it done time to time with people abroad, including this gentleman Bill Browder - that I just mentioned - where he was convicted of a crime in Russia in absentia. And then they went to Interpol, a system where you can ask for somebody to be detained in a third country through something called a red notice. And that's what I fear for me and my fellow Americans right now. And I want my president and his administration to state emphatically that this would be outrageous behavior to go after us and to do it proactively now so that we don't have to be litigating this when I'm, you know, sitting in Kiev or Lisbon or somewhere and I get a red notice.

SHAPIRO: Setting aside the specifics of your case, how extraordinary is it that President Trump - that a U.S. president - would raise the idea of allowing the intelligence services of a foreign adversary like Russia to interview a former top U.S. official?

MCFAUL: It's crazy. It's unprecedented. I can't remember anything like this. And I'm glad you said it's not just about me 'cause it's these 11 other officials. But think about the precedent it would set if that was allowed to happen. Every diplomat around the world would now be under suspicion, would have to worry. Every soldier around the world, every USAID official, every peace corps official, every intelligence officer - we can't allow that precedent to go forward. And that's why President Trump - I would hope - but at a minimum, the Trump administration pushes back on this idea and stops it now before it happens in the future.

SHAPIRO: It's been more than a week. Why do you think he hasn't made the kind of clear, unequivocal statement that you're seeking?

MCFAUL: I don't know. To be honest, I really can't understand that. I personally think it would help him. He says - you know, he just tweeted today or yesterday he's been stronger on Russia than anybody. Isn't this a really easy thing to be strong on Russia? You do not have the right to indict and call criminals - former U.S. ambassadors. I would think that would be a pretty low bar and yet not yet. I hope maybe in the future. That's why I'm here, lobbying on my behalf and on behalf of other Americans who might face my situation. I hope they'll get it right, and I hope they say it on the record.

SHAPIRO: Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, thanks for coming to the studio today.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRAAK AND SMAAK SONG, "HANDS OF TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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