A Mainer is on the list of U.S. officials that Russian President Vladimir Putin asked President Trump to turn over for interrogation by his prosecutors.

Kyle Parker, a native of Old Town and a 1999 graduate of the University of Maine, was one of the key players in the passage of the Magnitsky Act, a set of sanctions against Russians accused of human rights violations that Congress passed in 2012 in response to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison.

Russian Prosecutor General’s Office spokesman Alexander Kurennoi told the Interfax news agency Tuesday that Parker was among the U.S. officials Putin wished to question, along with former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul.

Parker tweeted a screenshot of the prosecutor’s list Tuesday with the message: “Look Mom! My name, spelled in Russian, alongside some important people. Honored to have made the cut.”

At this week’s summit in Helsinki, Putin made what Trump called an “incredible offer”: to allow special counsel Robert Mueller to interview the 12 Russians he has indicted for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign in return for letting Russian officials question McFaul, Parker and at least seven other Americans.

SENATE RESOLUTION

Kyle Parker said, “The whole notion that the Russian government would be allowed to interrogate American officials ranging from our former ambassador to little old me was ludicrous.”

To the consternation of almost everyone in U.S. foreign policy circles, the White House did not reject the offer out of hand, even as the State Department called it “absolutely absurd.” Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders instead told reporters Wednesday that Trump would “meet with his team” to discuss it.

But on Thursday Trump said he “disagreed” with the proposal, while the Republican-controlled Senate passed a resolution expressing opposition to the plan by a 98-0 vote.

Reached by telephone, Parker said he had never really been concerned that his government would turn him over to Moscow, but that the situation could cause problems for him in future. “The whole notion that the Russian government would be allowed to interrogate American officials ranging from our former ambassador to little old me was ludicrous,” he said. “But being on notice that the Russian government is seeking to interrogate you, sure that’s a concern in other areas. Third-country travel and things like that, getting pulled off a plane somewhere.”

Parker, who won the University of Maine Alumni Association’s 2014 Spirit of Maine achievement award for his human rights advocacy, became interested in Russia while studying in Orono in the mid-90s.

Parker said he had switched majors from chemistry to international politics after getting to know some Russian summer exchange students from the Kolya region in the Russian arctic. He later spent two years as an exchange student himself, one in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and another at the American University of Bulgaria, which was co-founded by the University of Maine. An internship with then-Sen. Olympia Snowe led to friendships and his first jobs in foreign policy.

He later served as a senior adviser to Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, on the House Foreign Relations Committee and as Eurasia policy adviser at the U.S. Helsinki Commission, the government agency that monitors human rights abuses, where he is currently chief of staff.

LOBBYING CONGRESS

He told USM students in 2014 that he had visited Russia 50 times, but couldn’t return because of his role in seeking retaliation for the death of Magnitsky, a Russian tax attorney who, while working for a U.S. law firm, uncovered “half a billion dollars … stolen from the Russian treasury, laundered through western banks.” He was jailed and, according to complaints he wrote, was fed insect-infested porridge and rotten fish mush. He contracted pancreatitis and gallstones but was refused treatment. He died handcuffed to a bed in an isolation cell after being beaten by eight guards with rubber truncheons in 2009.

Parker told GQ magazine that he cried when he read Magnitsky had died, and decided to help the dead lawyer’s client, Bill Browder, lobby Congress to retaliate.

“Here you have this Russian hero almost of a literary quality in Sergei Magnitsky,” Parker told GQ. “He wasn’t a guy who went to rallies with a bullhorn and protested human-rights abuses in Chechnya. He was a bookish, middle-class Muscovite. I see Sergei metaphorically as that Chinese guy standing in front of the tanks, but with a briefcase. He provided an example for all the other Russians that not everybody goes in for the deal, not everybody is corrupt, not everybody looks the other way when people are swindled.”

Browder has said the act wouldn’t have passed without Parker’s quarterbacking, and told reporters if a movie were ever made about it, it should be called “Kyle Parker’s War,” a title mirroring “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the 2007 film about a member of Congress persuading his country to respond to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by arming the Taliban. Browder, a U.S.-born British citizen, also is on the list of people the Russian prosecutor wishes to interrogate.

PUTIN REACTION

The Magnitsky Act barred many of the officials implicated by the dead lawyer’s research from entering the United States or accessing its banking system, which in effect has made it impossible for those individuals to access most western financial institutions. Putin has been angry about it ever since.

“Perhaps the most convincing reason that they have tried so constantly to overturn it is because its passage represents the first time where the U.S. government signaled a willingness to use sanctions tools against Russian officials, and that then set the stage for further sanctions responses as events in Ukraine unfolded,” Parker told the Press Herald. “So it seems to me that there’s an effort to say that if you can pull at the Magnitsky thread and delegitimize it, you can call the whole sanctions framework against Russia into question.”

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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