Former American ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul knows Vladimir Putin as well as anyone in the United States, and he knows how the Russian president operates and what makes him tick.
In a speech in his hometown of Bozeman, Montana on Sunday McFaul said that Putin always made audio and video recordings of everything he and other Americans in Moscow did. He said said that when President Barack Obama visited Moscow they had to build a sound-proof room inside the hotel to assure they were speaking privately and no recordings were being made.
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He also discussed Trump’s trip to Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe Pageant when he stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. McFaul said that everything you do in your hotel in Moscow is recorded. “Now, I don’t know what happened there, but whatever happened there, they have a record of it,” the former ambassador said.
McFaul also pointed out the second part of Putin’s modus operandi: creating leverage to influence subjects of his surveillance. In other words, once he has audio and video recordings of compromising behavior in a hotel room, he will use it to blackmail people.
Here’s what McFaul said about how Putin creates leverage, which he clearly could have done to compromise Donald Trump:
“Here’s what I do know. I know that Putin, with people in his country and in Europe, uses money all the time to create leverage. That’s a standard operating procedure for Vladimir Putin. And he’ll do things like — I’ll give you an example. When was I an ambassador, he decreed while I was there, that if you are a Russian government official, you’re no longer allowed to have assets abroad. You have to sell your assets in London and the French Riviera and New York. He made that decree.”
“But then in individual conversations Putin would make a special deal and give allowances to some people to keep assets abroad.”
“Well, what did he just do there? He created leverage. And you’re dependent and beholden to Vladimir Putin. He does that all the time. I don’t know if that happened with the Trump Organization and the family, but that’s a tactic that I’ve seen time and time again.”
McFaul also commented on Putin’s request last week that Trump send Americans to him for interrogation. Putin suggested during the summit that he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to interview the 12 indicted Russian hackers if Trump would turn McFaul and financier Bill Browder over to Russia for questioning, which was a totally outrageous suggestion.
“Just think about how absurd that is,” McFaul said during his speech. “We are U.S. government officials, that Putin is talking about. And President Trump went out to the press conference and said, ‘I think this is a great idea.’ That is not a Democrat or Republican thing, I’m sorry, that is not an American thing to say. To throw us under the bus.”
“It was the most cynical, crass, ridiculous thing and our president needs to understand that,” McFaul added.
He also commented on the fact that Trump seemed to agree with Putin’s ideas about the U.S. not protecting its NATO allies, another indication that perhaps Putin has leverage over Trump and is influencing his policies.
Concerning reports that Trump and Putin had a private discussion about holding a referendum in Ukraine, McFaul asked the logical question:
“By the way, who hired Trump or Putin to speak on behalf of Ukrainians?”