Russia may turn over former NSA leaker Edward Snowden as a "gift" and a way to "curry favor" with President Donald Trump, senior U.S. officials said Friday.
The disclosure to NBC News was based on an analysis of highly sensitive information on Russian deliberations collected by U.S. intelligence officials.
Handing over Snowden was being viewed as one of several ways to build relations with Trump — and a second U.S. intelligence source said that information on the Kremlin deliberations had been gathered since the president's Jan. 20 inauguration, according to the report.
Snowden said that NBC's report was "irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel.
"No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they're next," he said, The Washington Examiner reports.
Snowden's lawyer, Ben Wizner of the ACLU, told NBC that they were not aware of any plans to send their client back to the United States.
"Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern," he said.
The White House declined to comment, but Justice Department officials told NBC that it would welcome Snowden's return.
He has been charged with violating the U.S. Espionage Act ahd faces charges carrying a minimum of 30 years in prison.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told NBC that talk about returning Snowden was "nonsense."
Snowden, 33, has lived in Moscow under political asylum since he leaked thousands of classified documents that he had stolen while working for the National Security Agency as a contractor in Hawaii.
He leaked documents to journalists exposing the NSA's metadata program, which bulk-collected Americans' telephone and Internet data.
In January, the Russian government extended Snowden's residency to 2020. He had been living under temporary asylum.
Snowden's Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told the state-run news agency last month that his client would like to return to the United States — without facing criminal charges.
"We hope very much that the new U.S. president would show some weighted approach to the issue and make the one and only correct decision — to stop prosecution against Edward Snowden," Kucherena said, according to the report.
Trump has long slammed Snowden as "a terrible traitor" — charging that he should be "executed."
"We can't allow this guy to go out there and give out all our secrets and also embarrass us at every level," Trump told Fox News in 2013. "We should get him back and get him back now."
Other Republicans have called for Snowden's return to face American charges.
"I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence," former Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, now CIA director, said last February.
In December, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said that Snowden should "rot in jail for the rest of his life."
But former deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate urged the Trump White House to proceed cautiously on any Snowden deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"For Russia, this would be a win-win," Zarate told NBC.
He served under former President George W. Bush.
"They've already extracted what they needed from Edward Snowden, in terms of information, and they've certainly used him to beat the United States over the head in terms of its surveillance and cyber activity," he said.
"It would signal warmer relations and some desire for greater cooperation with the new administration," Zarate added, "but it would also no doubt stoke controversies and cases in the U.S. around the role of surveillance, the role of the U.S. intelligence community, and the future of privacy and civil liberties in an American context.
"All of that would perhaps be music to the ears of Putin."
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