After his meeting with Vladimir Putin, a pleased Donald Trump appeared before the media and declared that his counterpart had made “an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”
Of all the crazy Russia-related ideas Trump has entertained, this ranks among the craziest, perhaps exceeding Putin’s proposal for a joint cybersecurity task force. The Russian legal system is a farce, and the “charges” Putin claims he wishes to investigate are a pure cover to terrorize his enemies. Putin in particular wishes to interrogate Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia and a subject of Putin’s obsessive hatred.
It is not a serious proposal. It is Russia’s way of mocking the United States by pretending the legal systems in the two countries are equivalent.
At the White House press briefing Wednesday, Sarah Sanders was asked about this mock proposal. She did not bat it down. “There was some conversation about it but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” replied Sanders, “The president will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.” Letting Putin’s goons interrogate an Obama-era ambassador just because Putin hates him sounds great — but maybe there’s a catch.
The odds that this will actually occur are virtually nil. The disturbing thing about this turn of events is that, at best, the administration is too disorganized and incompetent to recognize an obvious ploy that would violate American sovereignty. At worst, Trump actually found the idea persuasive when Putin raised it, and Sanders couldn’t dismiss it because Trump’s staff hasn’t managed to talk him out of it.
McFaul tells the Wall Street Journal he is “deeply disappointed that the White House had the chance to denounce this crazy invented tale about U.S. government officials being somehow involved in breaking Russian laws and decided not to do so.”
“It’s beyond disgraceful,” a current diplomat tells the Daily Beast, “It’s fundamentally ignorant with regard to how we conduct diplomacy or what that means. It really puts in jeopardy the professional independence of diplomats anywhere in the world, if the consequence of their actions is going to be potentially being turned over to a foreign government.”
That this is even being debated is yet another surreal moment that, had it been suggested before Trump took office, would have been dismissed as a paranoid fantasy. But Trump’s presidency, and especially his approach to Russia, have routinely made the surreal into reality.