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PERSONA NON GRATA

U.S. Officials ‘at a Fucking Loss’ Over Latest Russia Sell Out

The White House’s refusal to rule out turning over former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul to the Russians has current and former State Department officials seeing red.

Spencer Ackerman7.18.18 5:36 PM ET

Current and former American diplomats are expressing disgust and horror over the White House’s willingness to entertain permitting Russian officials to question a prominent former U.S. ambassador.

One serving diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was “at a fucking loss” over comments that can be expected to chill American diplomacy in hostile or authoritarian countries – a comment echoed by former State Department officials as well.

“It’s beyond disgraceful. 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,” the U.S. diplomat told The Daily Beast.

During President Trump’s press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Putin pivoted a question about extraditing the 12 Russian intelligence officers whom Robert Mueller has indicted into a quid pro quo for going after longtime betes noire currently beyond his reach.

Putin singled out Bill Browder, whose exposure of widespread Russian tax fraud led to the passage of a U.S. human rights sanctions law Putin hates. Standing next to Trump, the Russian president accused Browder of masterminding an illegal campaign contribution to Hillary Clinton and alleging vaguely that he had “solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers guided these transactions.” Should Trump permit the Russians to question people around Browder, Putin hinted, he will let Mueller’s people be “present at questioning” of the intelligence officers.

The president has his interests at the top of his mind, as opposed to the government’s. That’s very clear over the past week and a half, between shitting on our NATO allies and kissing Putin’s ass.
current U.S. diplomat

On Wednesday, Russian prosecutors escalated the stakes. The prosecutor-general’s office said it wanted to interview Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, another Putin bete noire. McFaul—the Obama-era ambassador to Moscow—replied on Twitter that the Russians know well that he wasn’t even in Russia during the relevant time frame for any case against Browder.

At the White House, however, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to rule out permitting the Russians to question McFaul. Sanders said that there had been “some conversation” in Helsinki about the issue, though Trump made no “commitment.”

“The president is gonna meet with his team and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that,” Sanders said.

By contrast, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called the Russian request for McFaul “absolutely absurd”—which was closer in line with how former U.S. diplomats viewed Putin’s gambit.

“If the U.S. would make a former diplomat avail for questioning by a foreign government without evidence of wrongdoing, then that would be quite horrifying,” said Ron Neumann, a former ambassador to Afghanistan and current president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Susan Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Barack Obama’s national security adviser, tweeted that the lack of commitment to protecting McFaul was “beyond outrageous. Amb. McFaul served our country honorably and with full diplomatic immunity. If the White House cannot defend and protect our diplomats, like our service members, they are serving a hostile foreign power not the American people.”

McFaul did not respond to a request for comment.

David Wade, who was Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff, said that the White House refusal to disavow Putin on McFaul crossed a line “from demoralizing to dangerous” for American diplomats.

“To even hint that there’s some element of credibility to Russian disruptions and distractions puts a bullseye on the back of any diplomat and invites authoritarian regimes to bully and threaten American public servants for the crime of doing their job. No administration should require a lesson or reminder in why this is reprehensible,” Wade said.

To hint that there’s some element of credibility to Russian distractions invites authoritarian regimes to threaten American public servants for the crime of doing their job.
Former State Department official David Wade

Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and spokesman for the Obama National Security Council, said Sanders’ comments made Trump look “even weaker” than during Trump’s Monday press conference with Putin. “Trump has always been all too eager to cave to Putin, but, as far as we know, it’d been largely in the abstract. He sells out our intelligence community, attacks NATO, shelves our commitment to human rights. But Putin now has specific demands in the form of human beings—one of them formerly our designated representative to Russia,” Price said.

“By failing to reject the idea out of hand – immediately and forcefully – Trump signaled that absolutely nothing is off limits when it comes to Putin. And just as shocking, he’s willing to play Putin’s brand of ball, in which the world is purely transactional and lives are expendable.”

The current U.S. diplomat said the openness to turning over McFaul capped off a shocking week for U.S. geopolitics.

“The president has first and foremost his interests at the top of his mind, as opposed to the government’s. That’s very clear over the past week and a half, between shitting on our NATO allies and kissing Putin’s ass,” the diplomat said. “He cares more about himself than the nation and any of us who serve it.”

The diplomat continued: “Either he’s compromised by Putin or he’s a pussy, in which case he should grab himself.”

—with additional reporting by Sam Stein

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