Amid reports that Moscow is considering handing over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a “gift” to U.S. President Donald Trump, a Russian government spokesperson said Monday that the Kremlin and the White House have not discussed the matter, Russia’s state TASS agency reported.
“No, this issue (Snowden’s fate) was not raised,” presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday, adding that Russian officials have not taken a position on whether Snowden should be extradited to the U.S. or granted Russian citizenship.
“The issue was not raised (during the Russian-US contacts),” Peskov said. “At the moment it is not among bilateral issues.”
The statement comes after Snowden — who has lived in Russia since 2013, first with one-year temporary asylum then a residence permit — revealed in recent days that he is “not afraid” of being handed over to the United States, where he faces espionage charges for his explosive 2013 leak of documents on secret U.S. mass surveillance programs.
However, Snowden also said in an interview with Yahoo News that talk of a possible trade between Moscow and Washington makes him feel “encouraged” because it vindicates him in the face of accusations that he has been a spy for Russia by laying bare the fact that he has always been independent and “worked on behalf of the United States.”
“Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel,” he tweeted on Friday. “No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next.”
In the U.S., Snowden faces charges of theft of government property and violation of the Espionage Act on two counts, which each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
“What I am proud of,” Snowden told Yahoo News, “is the fact that every decision that I have made I can defend.”
Snowden is set to be eligible to apply for Russian citizenship next year, according to his lawyer. Last month, Moscow extended his residence permit, which is now valid until 2020.
Prominent activists, lawmakers, artists, academics, and other leading voices in civil society, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are joining the campaign to get a pardon for National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“The information disclosed by Edward Snowden has allowed Congress and the American people to understand the degree to which the NSA has abused its authority and violated our constitutional rights,” Sanders wrote for the Guardian on Wednesday. “Now we must learn from the troubling revelations Mr. Snowden brought to light. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies must be given the tools they need to protect us, but that can be done in a way that does not sacrifice our rights.”
Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who co-founded the public interest journalism advocacy group Freedom of the Press Foundation, where Snowden is a board member, also wrote, “Ed Snowden should be freed of the legal burden hanging over him. They should remove the indictment, pardon him if that’s the way to do it, so that he is no longer facing prison.”
Snowden faces charges under the Espionage Act after he released classified NSA files to media outlets in 2013 exposing the U.S. government’s global mass surveillance operations. He fled to Hong Kong, then Russia, where he has been living under political asylum for the past three years.