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The Man Putin Wants To Interrogate


Joined now in our studio by Kyle Parker, chief of staff of the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Mr. Parker is on a list of Americans that Vladimir Putin wants to interrogate because he helped engineer the Magnitsky Act, which targets Russian assets over human rights violations. Mr. Parker, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: You just heard Senator McCaskill's reaction to her Senate office being hacked. What's your reaction? Can the government be doing more?

PARKER: Oh, well, absolutely, and I think you really break this problem down into three main groups. One is infrastructure protection and, you know, hardening systems like the Senate that the senator was talking about. That's a job for government. The other is really a job for our free press. And that's, how do you handle massive hacked emails? Do you report on them? Do you treat these things as legitimate information to be put out there? But the third...

SIMON: When there's a hack by someone like WikiLeaks that contains interesting information, the press often reports it.

PARKER: Correct. Correct. And that's a question for our press. But I think the biggest question - and the only real long-term solution to the disinformation angle - is a question for the citizens and for our electorate itself. You know, voting is serious business, and people need to be aware of the problem and take efforts to actively consume the news.

SIMON: Former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, met this week with presidential adviser Fiona Hill. Ambassador McFaul told me he doesn't believe the administration is doing enough to protect him and you and others who have been mentioned by Vladimir Putin as persons of interest, let me put it that way. Thank you for coming in today. I don't see any bodyguards. How do you feel?

PARKER: Well, you know, I don't think the real concern has ever been that we would be turned over by our own government. The real concern here is that, you know, Russian prosecutors have opened a new criminal case under Article 210 of their criminal code. And that is a statute similar to our RICO statutes - the Racketeer Influenced, Corrupt Organizations statute - carries up to 20 years in prison. What I see happening, as someone who's watched how these people operate over a period of 25 years, is that they move to convict us in absentia and then use that as a pretext to go for an Interpol Red Notice, which is something like an international arrest warrant. I think it's no coincidence - the timing of this after the Mueller indictment of the 12 spies, it looks to me like we're pawns in this struggle between special counsel Mueller and the Kremlin. And so the harder he pushes them, I think the harder they're going to push us. Obviously, there's no comparison between the two processes, and we shouldn't blink, but that's where I think they're going.

SIMON: I mean, forgive me for putting it this personally, but people who are identified as enemies of Vladimir Putin wind up getting pushed out of windows, wind up getting poisoned in London.


SIMON: You must worry about that.

PARKER: Well, you have to take it seriously when someone like Vladimir Putin is targeting you personally. At the same, you know - but, I mean, the risk we face here in the United States, of course, pale in comparison to the risk faced by the smallest NGO in Russia that's simply out there trying to, you know, ask that their basic rights are respected by their own government.

SIMON: The White House says that President Trump's open to receiving an official invitation to visit Russia and President Putin. And he wants President Putin to come here, he says, perhaps next year. Should they be meeting quite so much? Should the president of the United States be meeting at all directly with Vladimir Putin right now?

PARKER: Well, you know, I think that's really a question for the president, but I don't see a whole lot of enthusiasm in the circles I run in in Congress for another such meeting. You know, it's - there's a reason for the relationship being in the place it is, and it's hard to fix it with a meeting or a slogan if nothing changes. And, of course, some of the biggest reasons involve Russia's behavior beyond its borders - attempting to annex territory of a neighboring state, aiding and abetting a murderous dictator in Syria and on and on and on.

SIMON: If the president meets under any circumstances with Vladimir Putin, should there be other people in the room?

PARKER: Well, again, there's more to the U.S. government than just the person of the president. And there's more than just the executive branch. So if you're going to be concluding agreements and policy that's actually going to be implemented, the people who are going to do the implementing - and Congress that needs to do the oversight and the funding of such a policy - needs to be aware of what's being agreed to.

SIMON: Does just meeting with President Putin send a signal to you - overuse a term that overused these days - that the U.S. and Russia relationship is normal?

PARKER: Well, I think that's the attempt, and that, you know - it sends a strong signal to the Russian people. And it's a strongly legitimizing image for the Russian president to stand next to our president, particularly in the city of Washington.

SIMON: Kyle Parker, chief of staff of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, thanks so much for coming in today.

PARKER: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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