20 Jul 2018

Donald Trump rejects proposal for Russia to interrogate US citizens

8:05 am on 20 July 2018

US President Donald Trump has rejected a proposal made by the Russian leader Vladimir Putin that Russia be allowed to question US citizens.

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a joint press conference after a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.

US President Donald Trump has disagreed with Russian leader Vladimir Putin's offer to quiz US citizens, who the Kremlin accuses of "illegal actions". Photo: AFP

The White House earlier said it would consider it but now says Mr Trump "disagrees" with the suggestion.

"It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it," White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.

"Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt," she said.

The offer was made at a summit of the two leaders. The idea of allowing a foreign power to quiz US citizens sparked outrage.

In what President Trump called a "tremendous" gesture, Mr Putin said he would let US prosecutors interview the 12 Russians in exchange for Russian access to US nationals the Kremlin accuses of "illegal actions".

The individuals are related to Russia's case against the financier Bill Browder, a fierce Putin critic who was instrumental in the US imposing sanctions in 2012 on top Russian officials accused of corruption.

Mr Browder told the BBC he was glad President Trump "isn't going to hand me over to President Putin".

"I'm a little amazed that this whole conversation has taken place over a three-day period when Trump should have immediately rejected it, as any other head of state would have," he said.

Russia was also seeking to interview Michael McFaul, another Putin critic who was US ambassador to Moscow under President Obama.

Allowing Russian officials to interview Mr McFaul would be a violation of the longstanding tradition that foreign diplomats have legal immunity.

President Putin hits out at Trump summit critics

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rounded on US critics of his summit with President Donald Trump.

Certain forces in the US wanted to sacrifice US-Russian ties for their "narrow party interests", he told a meeting of Russian diplomats in Moscow.

"They are feeding millions of their people stories," he said.

President of the US Donald Trump and President of Russia Vladimir Putin during the joint news conference following their meeting in Helsinki.

President of the US Donald Trump and President of Russia Vladimir Putin during the joint news conference following their meeting in Helsinki. Photo: AFP

Mr Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies earlier this week when he backed away from blaming Russia for meddling in the 2016 election, provoking condemnation.

He later said he had misspoken at the summit.

In his comments, Mr Putin said the meeting had been "successful and has led to useful agreements".

"Of course, it remains to be seen how the situation will develop, especially given that certain forces in America are trying to belittle and undermine the results of the meeting," he said.

During an interview with CBS News, Mr Trump said he held Mr Putin personally responsible for interfering in the election, and that he was "very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling".

Yesterday, Mr Trump accused opponents of preferring to go to war rather than seeing good relations with Russia. In a series of tweets he said he was keen to meet Mr Putin again.

US special counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether there was collusion among the Trump campaign team, something denied by both.

Much of the outrage stemmed from one comment Mr Trump made when he appeared alongside Mr Putin at the summit.

During a news conference, Mr Trump was asked whether he believed US intelligence agencies' conclusions or Mr Putin about whether Russia had meddled.

According to a White House transcript, he said: "I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

Amid outcry, the following day he said he had misspoken.

Despite the controversy, Republican voters seem to be sticking by Mr Trump, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll this week finding that his Finland summit had no real impact on his overall approval ratings.