Two days after the one-on-one meeting between President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, little is known as to the substance of their discussions; however, one topic made public was Putin’s offer to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller if the U.S. would allow Russian officials access to former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
*The Kremlin, Mr. Putin said, would allow Mr. Mueller and his team to travel to Russia and be present at the questioning of 12 Russian military intelligence officers the special counsel indicted last week for hacking into the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee and the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.
In exchange, however, the United States would have to permit Russian law enforcement officials to take part in interrogations of people “who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia.” He singled out one man: William F. Browder.
A London-based financier who led a global human rights crusade against the Kremlin that has resulted in sanctions being leveled against numerous Russian officials, Mr. Browder, 54, is a source of deep frustration for the Kremlin, which has gone to great lengths to shut him down.*
Though neither leader indicated whether the issue was discussed in private, Trump commented during the joint press conference that he thought Putin’s proposal was a great offer.
Browder, however, would disagree.
It is largely thanks to Browder that the Magnitsky Act was passed in the United States, as well as several other countries, after its namesake, Sergei Magnitsky, was killed in a Moscow prison in 2009.
Because of Browder’s campaign to hold the Russians accountable for the death of Magnitsky, he has been a target of Putin’s for years now. He has been sentenced in Russia in absentia to nine years’ imprisonment on tax evasion, deliberate bankruptcy, and fraud. On several occasions the Russians have attempted to use Interpol to arrest and detain him. During Monday’s press conference, Putin attempted to spin a conspiracy theory about Browder that will not doubt be added to the tales Trump tries to tell about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
Mr. Putin on Monday detailed on television a variation of some of the allegations that the lawyer, Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, brought to the Trump Tower meeting — namely that some of Mr. Browder’s associates had funneled $400 million to the Clinton campaign with money illegally moved out of Russia.
This is where the former U.S. ambassador to Russia comes in:
The General Prosecutor’s Office is poised to send an official request to the United States’ authorities to question a number of US officials and intelligence agents as part of a criminal case against Hermitage Capital Management CEO Bill Browder.
As RIA Novosti reports, the body expressed its intention to interrogate the employees of the American special services and state employees. In particular, Kurennoy named former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
“We’re ready to send another request to the U.S. authorities to grant us permission to question these very employees of the U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as a number of other U.S. government officials and businessmen, in order to charge them for the crimes committed by Browder,” said Alexander Kurennoy, head of the Russia’s Office of Prosecutor General’s Mass Media Department, per the state-run Sputnik News.
According to McFaul, this latest development is not Putin’s first attempt to harass him:
To rally his supporters and undermine the protesters, Putin would need an enemy, and he turned to the most reliable one in Russia’s recent history: the United States and then, by extension, me. As soon as I became the new proxy for Washington, Moscow launched a full-scale disinformation campaign alleging that, under my direction, the United States was funding the opposition and attempting to overthrow Putin. State propagandists and their surrogates crudely photoshopped me into pictures, spliced my speeches to make me say things I never uttered and even accused me of pedophilia.
When the news hit that Russia had retrained its sights on McFaul, he pleaded on Twitter for the American press to inquire of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders just where the president stands on this issue.
According to CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood, Sanders acknowledged the two leaders discussed Browder and McFaul, and "declined to rule out US cooperation in that effort".