President Donald Trump will consider allowing Russian investigators to question U.S.-born investor Bill Browder, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and others after President Vladimir Putin floated the idea, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.
“He said it was an interesting idea. He didn’t commit to anything,” Sanders said at the daily press briefing. “He wants to work with his team and determine if there’s any validity that would be helpful to the process…It was an idea they threw out.”
Later in the day, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the concept “absolutely absurd.”
“The fact that they want to question 11 American citizens, and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens — we do not stand by those assertions,” Nauert said.
In a joint press conference with Trump Monday, Putin proposed that the U.S. allow Russian officials to interview Americans in exchange for Russia allowing U.S. officials to interview Russians, such as the 12 people recently indicted for their role in hacking Democratic computer systems in 2016.
“This kind of effort should be a mutual one,” Putin said Monday. “We would expect that the Americans would reciprocate.”
The idea was “an incredible offer,” Trump said.
The Russian leader mentioned Browder, whom, he said, “we have an interest of questioning” over tax issues. Browder has been at odds with the Kremlin for years, including because of his advocacy for efforts to sanction Russians suspected of committing human rights violations.
On Tuesday, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office released a wishlist of potential people to extradite, including members of the State and Homeland Security departments and members of the CIA. McFaul, a former ambassador who had strained relations with the Kremlin and has since said he was banned from traveling to Russia, was also included.
“I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin,” McFaul tweeted Wednesday. “Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy US indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”
It would be an extraordinary step to allow Russian investigators access to current or former U.S. officials. Browder, though born in the U.S., is now a British citizen, so it is unclear how a deal involving him would work.