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White House says Trump to discuss allowing Russia to question US citizens

The Hill logo The Hill 7/19/2018 Jacqueline Thomsen
Vladimir Putin wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Hill

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that President Trump will discuss allowing Russian investigators to come to the United States to question U.S. citizens, including a former American ambassador to Russia.

Sanders said during a White House press briefing that Trump is "gonna meet with his team" to talk about the potential for Russian officials to question U.S. citizens like Michael McFaul, who was ambassador to Russia from January 2012 to February 2014.

"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 President Vladimir 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."

Russia state-owned outlet RT reported that Russia wanted to question McFaul and Christopher Steele, author of the so-called Steele dossier, and others in its investigation into American financier Bill Browder. Browder is a prominent critic of Putin who lobbied on behalf of the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions against Russia.

During Monday's press conference, Putin alleged without evidence that Browder illegally transferred $1.5 billion out of Russia and had funneled $400 million toward Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The Russian prosecutor's office later corrected that figure to $400,000.

Browder has denied the allegations.

The State Department on Wednesday called the "overall assertions" made by the Russian government "absolutely absurd" but a spokeswoman refused to weigh in on Trump's decision about possible interviews.

"Well, I can't answer on behalf of the White House with regard to that," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a press briefing. "But what I can tell you is that the overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are 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 that the Russian government makes."

She also noted that she understood why the request to interview Americans would be "a grave concern to our former colleagues here."

McFaul denounced the possibility of being questioned by Russian officials, and he called on Trump to condemn the proposal.

-Updated 6:40 p.m.

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