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Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials

The Hill logo The Hill 7/19/2018 Jordain Carney
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The Senate on Thursday approved a resolution warning President Trump not to let the Russian government question diplomats and other officials, not long after the White House released a statement backpedaling on a proposal to allow Moscow help interrogate U.S. citizens such as former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

Senators voted 98-0 on the resolution spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“That President Trump would even consider handing over a former U.S. ambassador to Putin and his cronies for interrogation is bewildering. …This body must agree on the importance of protecting our ambassadors. We should pass it today, not wait, not show any equivocation,” Schumer said ahead of the vote, which was scheduled before the White House backtracked.

The non-binding resolution comes amid growing frustration in the Senate over the White House's warmer stance toward Moscow, especially in the wake of the joint summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump earlier this week.

The potential that Trump could allow Russia to question U.S. officials had been in the headlines since the summit in Helsinki.

Putin said during a press conference with Trump on Monday that the Kremlin would permit special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to travel to Russia and attend the questioning of 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted in the probe, if Russia is allowed to help interrogate some people “who have something to do with illegal actions in the territory of Russia.”

The White House initially refused to shoot down the proposal. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that Trump was “gonna meet with his team” to talk about the potential for Russian officials to question U.S.

But Huckabee Sanders on Thursday released a statement backpedaling on the proposed arrangement.

“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it. Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt," she said in her statement.

The resolution, which the Senate voted on shortly after the new White House statement, read that U.S. "should refuse to make available any current or former diplomat, civil servant, political appointee, law enforcement official or member of the Armed Forces of the United States for questioning by the government of Vladimir Putin,” the resolution states.

Democratic senators had been expected to ask for unanimous consent to pass the resolution, which would have allowed any one senator to block it. Two other Russia-related resolutions — one from Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) and another from Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) — were blocked earlier Thursday.

Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set up the Thursday afternoon vote, giving lawmakers the chance to go on record as they face intense pressure to pass new Russia legislation after the Helsinki summit and the indictment of 12 Russian nationals for meddling in the 2016 election.

A simple majority was needed to pass the resolution. Democrats, and some Republicans, had been highly critical of the idea of allowing Russian officials to come to the U.S. for interrogations.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), while calling the resolution “somewhat meaningless,” summed up the proposal as a “bad idea.”

“I have no idea how that’s even come into consciousness,” Corker said.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a sometimes ally of the president’s, told The Hill on Thursday that allowing Russia to question Americans would be “absurd and naïve.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, dismissed the potential agreement as “terrible” offer.

“There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” Sanders said. “The president will work with his team and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”

Russian state media reported that McFaul and Christopher Steele, author of the so-called Steele dossier, are among those Russia wants to question as part of its investigation into Bill Browder, an American financer who lobbied on behalf of legislation that imposed sanctions against Russia.



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