The Putin-Trump threat takes a menacing turn–Michael McFaul and Bill Browder

Putin’s Unbelievable Audacity with Trump

President Donald Trump will consider allowing Russian investigators to question U.S.-born investor Bill Browder, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and others after President Vladimir Putin floated the idea, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.
–Eleanor Mueller, “White House: Trump will consider letting Russia question investor, former ambassador,” {Politico, July 19, 2018 (4:30 p.m. EDT).

Bill Browder. a former investor in Russia and the force behind the Magnitsky Act named after his business partner, who died in a Russian after being denied medical care in a case in which he was framed, and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, have come potential targets of Putin-Trump as a result of the private conversation between the two presidents in Helsinki on July, 16, 2018.

The Russians, ever more confident of their ability to manipulate the American president, had the sheer audacity to make such a demand. Trump, unaccompanied by officials knowledgeable about Russia, diplomacy, and the U.S. legal system, said he would take the request under consideration.

We already knew Trump was incredibly ignorant and incredibly stupid. But perhaps we were unwilling to admit to ourselves that we recognize he is that stupid.

Putin surely knew that his proposal had a snowball’s chance in hell of being definitively accepted by the American government, once its officials have educated Trump on the issue and the political blunder his response represents.

But Putin may have had another purpose in mind: to scare his critics such as McFaul, so that they will temper their criticism. If McFaul can be cowed, many more will be intimidated. In fact, because Russia has not yet been expelled from INTERPOL, the country has the ability to issue an international arrest warrant for either McFaul or Bowder. While legally McFaul will ultimately be protected by the diplomatic immunity he enjoyed as Ambassador to Russia (see the 1961 U.N. Convention on Diplomatic Relations), Bowder is more exposed. Even McFaul will now have to think carefully about his travel plans, because such a warrant could certainly interrupt a summer vacation with his family in Europe.

One thing must be done immediately. Congress must pass a law that requires other U.S. officials to be present in any meeting between the president and officials of another state, and that accurate records be made of the proceedings.

So, due to Putin’s mind control over Trump, we now face the spectacle of a brutal foreign dictator trying to reach within the United States to threaten U.S. citizens and their exercise of First Amendment rights within the U.S.

Could Trump Move Toward Imposing Martial Law?

Critics has consistently underestimated Trump and his authoritarian tendencies at every step of the way.

Few seem fully aware of the dangers.

Not many have studied the way in which Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 after the Reichstag Fire and the passage of the Enabling Act, which he then used to crush all opposition and to impose the Nazi dictatorship.

Timothy Snyder, in On Tyranny (2017), reminds us of these and similar events. Worth recalling, also, is the fact that Putin himself assumed dictatorial powers following a series of terrorist attacks beginning in 1999. which many observers believe he himself instigated.

See Masha Gessen, “The Reichstag Fire Next Time: The Coming Crackdown, Harper’s, July, 2017.

“More recently, Vladimir Putin has relied on a succession of catastrophic events to create irreversible exceptions. In 1999, a series of apartment bombings in Moscow and cities in southern Russia killed hundreds. This allowed Putin to proclaim that he could summarily execute those deemed “terrorists” and became a pretext for a new war in Chechnya. In 2002, the three-day siege of a Moscow theater served as a demonstration of the principle of summary execution: Russian law enforcement pumped the theater full of sleeping gas, entered the building, and shot the hostage-takers as they lay unconscious. The Kremlin also used the theater siege as a pretext to ban the already cowed media from covering anti-terrorist operations. Two years later, more than three hundred people, most of them children, died following an attack at a school in Beslan, in southern Russia. Putin used this catastrophic event to cancel the elections of local governors, effectively abolishing the country’s federal structure.”

One of our most sophisticated writers on foreign affairs, Roger Cohen, has recently issued a stark warning:


“Trump’s Road to American Martial Law; For Putin, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving. Republicans may grumble over this, but they are Trump’s indecent enablers.” The New York Times, July 18, 2018.

“The president is not done.

“Soon, there may be indictments from Robert Mueller, the special counsel, of high officials or members of Trump’s family. What then? Ornstein’s nightmare scenario: Trump fires Mueller, pardons himself and everyone else, sends his followers into the street, and, after the inevitable bloodshed, declares martial law.

“Not yet. Not yet.”

Cohen invites us to think about the unthinkable. What if, cornered, Trump calls for his supporters to go into the streets? He probably has more “second amendment people” than his critics.

At the moment, the United States is in a kind of verbal civil war. What if, as the stakes grow higher, it turns physical?

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.