Michael A. McFaul, a former U.S. diplomat and fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, will visit the White House on Tuesday for a private meeting with President Trump’s top adviser on Russia, according to two people familiar with the planned meeting.
McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, will meet with Fiona Hill, a senior director on the National Security Council who joined the president for last week’s summit with Putin in Helsinki, said the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Hill is widely seen within the administration as one of Trump’s most hawkish advisers on Russia and has written extensively and critically of Putin, including a 2013 biography of the former KGB officer.
Hill’s influence on Trump has drawn new scrutiny in recent days as the president has made overtures to Putin. But her willingness to meet with McFaul could be a sign that she is, at the least, interested in connecting with the Stanford University professor as McFaul deals with the fallout from an offer from Putin to Trump.
Last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was considering Putin’s proposal for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to visit Moscow to interrogate Russian hacking suspects in exchange for Russians’ interrogating U.S. officials, including McFaul. Trump initially described the offer as an “interesting idea.”
Sanders, however, later ruled out the suggestion in a statement Thursday, following intense criticism from both Republicans and Democrats about the possibility of sending Americans abroad to be questioned by Russian intelligence officials.
Former secretary of state John F. Kerry tweeted that the offer was “not something that should require a half second of consultation. Dangerous.” And the Republican-controlled Senate voted 98 to 0 Thursday to approve a resolution urging the United States not to make any current or former U.S. diplomats available to Putin.
“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” Sanders said. “Hopefully, President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”
It is unclear whether Hill and McFaul have a specific agenda for the meeting or if the Trump administration is considering taking further steps to reassure McFaul that he is not at risk of being sent to Russia as part of any future agreement with Putin, the people said. The White House announced last week that the president had invited Putin to visit Washington this fall.
After The Washington Post posted this story on Monday, McFaul tweeted, “I am coming to DC today to try to meet with several US government officials to urge them to communicate with their Russian counterparts about the negative consequences of further harassing former US officials like me.”
McFaul added that he believes it is a “low probability event” that Russia would indict him or others, but he is seeking to ensure it is a “zero probability event.”
As the summit unfolded in Helsinki and the two leaders held a news conference, McFaul wondered on Twitter whether Hill agreed with the president’s political embrace of the Russian leader.
“I remember all the tough talk on Russia from [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo’s confirmation hearings, [national security adviser John] Bolton’s TV appearances, and Fiona Hill’s writings,” McFaul said. “I wonder what they were thinking today.”
Speaking last Wednesday on MSNBC, McFaul said he was stunned by the administration’s response to Putin’s offer.
“It’s been a weird couple of days,” McFaul said. “I was totally flabbergasted by why the White House would not defend me.”
A White House spokesman declined to comment.
A second White House official said McFaul requested a meeting with the National Security Council and added that the NSC accepted out of courtesy.
McFaul declined to comment.
McFaul served as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, a tumultuous period in relations between the two countries. President Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law in 2012, prompting retaliation from Russia that included banning U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans. McFaul was often the target of anti-American attacks in the Russian media and said he ended up being Putin’s “personal foe.”
Samantha Schmidt contributed to this report.