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Stephen Colbert asks former Ambassador Michael McFaul what it's like being offered up to a dictator

Michael McFaul, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

On Tuesday’s Late Show, Stephen Colbert booked former U.S Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and asked how he thought that whole “Donald Trump takes the word of the murderous dictator over our own intelligence community” Helsinki summit went. With but the merest of appropriately diplomatic pauses, the former diplomat and current author summed it up with a decisive, if still-bewildered, “It was a disaster.”

And McFaul should know, as the former ambassador found himself confronted with the nakedly insane fact that the American president nodded along with Vladimir Putin’s plan to allow American intelligence to watch Russian intelligence interrogate the 12 Russians recently indicted for attacking the integrity of the 2016 election in exchange for allowing Putin to bring over some American citizens he’d like to grill—including Michael McFaul. “This is crazy stuff,” shrugged McFaul, speaking both of Trump’s willingness to turn over Americans Putin doesn’t like to the guy who violated an American election in order to put Donald Trump in power, and Putin’s InfoWars-level conspiracy theory that McFaul and noted Putin enemy Bill Browder laundered stolen Russian money on behalf of Hilary Clinton. Noting that his expectations going into what all the kids immediately started hashtagging “#TreasonSummit” “were very low,” McFaul yet says he had trouble believing Russian journalist pals when they asked him whether he was aware he was being offered up—alongside Browder, whose push for the Magnitsky Act made noted human rights violator Putin strongman-livid—as a little goodwill present from an American president.


McFaul, who incurred Putin’s ire as ambassador when he dared meet with Russian opposition activists in 2012, continued to use the word “crazy” to describe Trump’s fealty to the Russian dictator, election-meddler, and journalist-murderer. (Oh, and power and communications grid-tamperer, apparently.) Noting that, even during the Cold War, Russia never dared attack American elections or annex territories as Putin has done, McFaul told Colbert that this new era of what he terms “hot peace” carries its own set of challenges that require a strong American leader to “push back” on Russia. And, even as McFaul assured Colbert’s audience that the looming daily threat of a nuclear exchange isn’t really a thing anymore, the increasingly apparent fact that America hasn’t got a strong leader to navigate this new reality is just as worrisome.

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.