WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are slamming the Trump administration over the possibility that President Trump would consider allowing Russian officials to question former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a non-binding resolution Thursday that says that the U.S. should refuse to make any former diplomat available to Russian investigators who say that official may have interfered in their country's domestic affairs. The Senate was expected to vote on that resolution Thursday afternoon.
"It is the sense of Congress that the United States 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 says, Schumer said on the Senate floor.
"This body must agree on the importance of protecting our ambassadors. We should pass it today —not wait, not show any equivocation," he added.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters at her weekly press conference Thursday that the suggestion of handing over McFaul is "outrageous."
"That the president would even entertain the idea of subjecting our diplomats to Putin's thuggery — that is an abuse of power," he said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked Wednesday if Trump supports the idea of having McFaul and Bill Browder, a London-based financier and Putin critic, questioned by Russia and if this came up in the Trump-Putin private conversation at their summit in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.
"There was some conversation about it, but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the president will work with his team, and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front," she said.
McFaul was critical of Putin and the Russian government when he served as ambassador. His name reportedly appeared on a list of Americans who Russia could have access to if Trump went along with Putin's offer to allow special counsel Robert Mueller to interview the 12 Russians indicted last week for allegedly interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"It later then came out in the Russian press that they had a list, and I was at the top of that list," McFaul said on MSNBC Thursday morning. "Shocking. This is classic what-aboutism by the Russians. 'You have this indictment, right? Well, we have this indictment of these people.' Tit for tat."
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said that the White House's failure to reject the possibility of McFaul being questioned is "unbelievable" and yet another reason Congress needs to learn on what was discussed during the leaders' private meeting.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that the administration even considering the idea of letting Russian agents question U.S. diplomats was "naive" and "absurd."
In an interview on MSNBC Thursday, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called the prospect "ridiculous."
"It's another sign that this president is very happy making himself a client of Vladimir Putin," Murphy said.
Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state while McFaul served as ambassador in Moscow, tweeted Thursday that McFaul is a "patriot who has spent his career standing up for America. To see the White House even hesitate to defend a diplomat is deeply troubling."
Separately, a resolution offered by Flake, and Chris Coons, D-Del., expressing support for the U.S. intelligence community failed Thursday after Senate Majority Leader John Cornyn, R-Texas, objected to it, calling it merely "symbolic" and that he'd rather Congress work on tougher sanctions against Russia.