It would be “pretty silly” for President Donald Trump to demand that Russian President Vladimir Putin extradite the 12 officials special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Friday, national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.”
“This is a very serious matter,” Bolton also said. “You know, the Russians take the position … that their constitution forbids them to extradite Russian citizens.”
For that reason, he added, “I think for the president to demand something that isn’t going to happen puts the president in a weak position, and I think the president has made it very clear he intends to approach this discussion from a position of strength.”
Bolton was referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s announcement that Mueller has indicted 12 Russian officials in connection with the 2016 hackings of the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
Trump and Putin meet Monday in Helsinki, Finland. But after Mueller issued his indictments, several prominent Democratic lawmakers called on Trump to cancel the event and others urged him he demand Putin extradite the 12.
“I know a number of Democratic senators have called for extradition,” Bolton replied when asked if Trump will ask Putin to extradite the Russian officials. “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume none of them are lawyers because the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, so it’s pretty hard to imagine how that would happen.”
Bolton noted that there are other steps the U.S. could pursue, such as approaching the International Association of Chiefs of Police and giving them “what are called red notices, to issue arrest warrants in other countries.”
“But I’m sure the Department [of Justice] will pursue the normal channels that it can to try to bring these people to trial,” Bolton said.
When ABC News’ Jon Karl asked Bolton if the indictments “blindsided” or “undermined” Trump as he prepared for meeting with Putin, Bolton replied, “quite the contrary.”
“The president was briefed on the indictment coming. I spoke with him about it. He was perfectly prepared to have it come before the meeting with Putin,” the security adviser insisted. “I would say, in fact, it strengthens his hand. It shows that the … Department of Justice [is] aware of these Russian efforts in election meddling, and I think the president can put this on the table and say, ‘This is a serious matter that we need to talk about.'”
Bolton said he found it “hard to believe” that Putin was unaware of the 12 Russian officials’ efforts to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election by hacking into the DNC and DCCC.
“But that’s what one of the purposes of this meeting is, so the president can see eye to eye with President Putin and ask him about it,” Bolton said.
But Democratic lawmakers remained unconvinced on Sunday that Trump’s meeting with Putin is a good idea following Mueller’s indictments.
“Frankly, one of the things I’m most worried about is we need to have other Americans in the room,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) warned Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Vladimir Putin is a trained KGB agent. He may come in with maps of Syria, maps of Ukraine. And frankly, I think he’ll take advantage of this president, whom we know doesn’t do much prep work before these meetings.”
Warner insisted that Trump needs “other individuals from his administration in the room, so we know at least someone will press the Russians on making sure they don’t interfere in future U.S. elections.”
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump is “genuinely looking forward to sitting across the table” from Putin while “trying to reduce the tension in a relationship where our collective blood pressure is off the charts.” But there will be significant “challenges,” Huntsman cautioned.
“So, when the president looks at the totality of the Russian relationship, this is one piece of it, addressing their malign activity in their election meddling,” Huntsman said. “But there’s a whole lot more that is part of our relationship that has to be discussed, too.”
Noting that the 2018 midterm elections are coming up in November, Huntsman warned that “if there is meddling in the election this November, like we saw in 2016, we’re not going to have much of a relationship left, and all of these other issues that we’re talking about in trying to find common ground [is] going to be exceedingly difficult to do.”
“Vladimir Putin is a trained KGB agent. He may come in with maps of Syria, maps of Ukraine.”
“So, we have a real-world case study that’s about to play out in November, that’s going to be very important in this bilateral relationship,” Huntsman said. “They know it and we know it and we’ve brought it up time and time again, and we’ll have to see if this is a test ultimately of whether we can get through the months ahead.”
But Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on “State of the Union” that Trump’s decision to meet with Putin is a “disastrous approach.”
“He’s sitting down with a man who just ordered intervention in our election, and rewarding him for doing so, there’s no way that brings about a successful result,” Schiff insisted, saying Mueller issued the indictments “to stigmatize those interfering with our elections.”
“[Putin is] the ringmaster of this conspiracy, and he’s going to be sitting down at the table with Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is basically saying that indictment is a witch hunt,” Schiff said. “That’s a great gift for Putin.”