Former American ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul spoke Sunday in Bozeman, Montana about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request to send Americans to him for interrogation. Putin suggested during the meeting with President Donald Trump in Helsinki to allow special counsel Robert Mueller to interview the 12 indicted Russian hackers if McFaul and financier Bill Browder were turned over to Russia.
“Just think about how absurd that is,” McFaul told a bookshop audience. “We are U.S. government officials, that Putin is talking about. And President Trump went out to the press conference and said, ‘I think this is a great idea.’ That is not a Democrat or Republican thing, I’m sorry, that is not an American thing to say. To throw us under the bus.”
“A sincere idea?!” exclaimed McFaul. “It was the most cynical, crass, ridiculous thing and our president needs to understand that.”
He noted that Trump and Putin also seemed to have discussed the U.S. not protecting NATO allies and the American leader seemed to agree. They also seemed to have discussed a referendum in Ukraine.
“By the way, who hired Trump or Putin to speak on behalf of Ukrainians?” McFaul asked the audience.
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“All of those things — they’re in Putin’s interest,” McFaul continued. “There was not one concrete thing at the end of that meeting that I would say, ‘Well, we, America, are better off as a result of that meeting.’ And that’s his job. He’s the commander in chief, he’s the president of the United States. His job is to advance our interest. That is what you sign up for when you become president.”
McFaul concluded that there are two major explanations for all of this. First, is the idiot defense. The former ambassador explained that Trump obviously didn’t read his 100 pages of briefings ahead of the meeting and opted to go golfing instead.
“He hasn’t taken the time to think about American interests over his own personal interests,” McFaul said. “He just winged it. It reminds me of some really over-confident frat boys at Stanford. ‘Oh, I don’t need to study for this.'”
Another explanation, he anticipated the audience wanted him to speculate on, is one he said he doesn’t know the answer to.
“Here’s what I do know,” McFaul began. “I know that Putin, with people in his country and in Europe, uses money all the time to create leverage. That’s a standard operating procedure for Vladimir Putin. And he’ll do things like — I’ll give you an example. When was I an ambassador, he decreed while I was there, that if you are a Russian government official, you’re no longer allowed to have assets abroad. You have to sell your assets in London and the French Riviera and New York. He made that decree.”
However, in individual conversations, McFaul said, Putin would give allowances to some.
“Well, what did he just do there? He created leverage,” he continued. “And you’re dependent and beholden to Vladimir Putin. He does that all the time. I don’t know if that happened with the Trump Organization and the family, but that’s a tactic that I’ve seen time and time again.”
His second thing, he recalled Trump staying in the Ritz Carlton in Moscow when he was there in 2013 for the Miss Universe Pageant. McFaul said that when he was there with former President Barack Obama, the White House had to build a sound-proof room inside the hotel so that they knew they were speaking privately. The make-shift room couldn’t have any electronic access or outside access other than a small hole everyone, including Obama, had to crawl through.
“You should assume that everything you do is recorded,” he said. “Now, I don’t know what happened there, but whatever happened there, they have a record of it.
McFaul’s new book, From Cold War to Hot Peace, is on sale now.
Watch the comments from McFaul below: