The Russian government is debating whether to turn Edward Snowden over to the United States as a “gift” to President Donald Trump, reports claim.
According to NBC News, a senior U.S. official with access to “highly sensitive intelligence reports” says the Russians may hand over the former NSA contractor in order to “curry favor” with the president. The account was also reportedly corroborated by a second source, who stated that conversations and notes on the topic had been collected since the inauguration.
Ben Wizner, Snowden’s lawyer from the ACLU, told NBC News that his team had “received no such signals and has no new reason for concern.” And while the White House declined to comment, the Justice Department, which is currently pursuing federal charges against the whistleblower, said it would welcome Snowden’s return. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, labeled the claims “nonsense.”
Former deputy director of the CIA Michael Morell had suggested in January that Russia hand over Snowden as an inauguration gift to Trump. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, condemned the suggestion at the time and stated that Snowden’s asylum had been extended for several years.
Reacting to the news on Twitter, Snowden used the report to reject claims from his opponents that he had cooperated with Russian intelligence.
“Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel. No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next,” Snowden said.
Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel. No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next. https://t.co/YONqZ1gYqm
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) February 10, 2017
Although a recent poll found more Americans support a pardon for Snowden than prosecution, President Trump and several members of his administration have been staunchly opposed to the ex-NSA analyst.
Trump has repeatedly called Snowden a “traitor” and even called for his execution. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has similarly called for Snowden to receive the “death sentence.”
Although more than 1 million Americans signed a petition asking for Snowden to be pardoned, the request was denied by then President Barack Obama days before he left office.
Radio talk show host Alex Jones last November called on Donald Trump prior to his inauguration to pardon Snowden as well.
— Mikael Thalen (@MikaelThalen) November 15, 2016