While much of the world looks at the turmoil in Washington with apprehension and dread, at least somebody watching the expanding investigation of President Trump and his associates is enjoying himself: Russia’s troll-in-chief, President Vladimir Putin.
Nearing his 18th anniversary of running the Russian Federation, either as president or prime minister, Putin held one of his trademark marathon call-in shows on Thursday, accepting phoned-in questions from Russians about everything from disputes with local politicians to issues of great geopolitical concern.
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And, as he has seemed more and more likely to do these days, he took a moment to tweak the United States government, suggesting that the Kremlin would be happy to offer political asylum to former FBI director James Comey, whose testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week brought him under fire from Trump and his supporters.
Comey, just weeks after being fired by Trump, testified under oath that the president asked him to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russian officials. Comey’s firing set off a chain of events last month that contributed to the decision by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Trump administration and Trump associates’ potential collusion with Russia during the November elections. Mueller is now reported to be specifically investigating the possibility that Trump himself attempted to obstruct justice.
During his more than four hours taking calls Thursday, Putin was asked about the dust-up in Washington, and replied, “Comey said he’s written down his conversation with the president and handed it to the media through a friend of his. This does sound and look odd: The director of a security service making records of his talks with the supreme commander and handing it over to the media through a friend of his.”
He went on to compare Comey to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has been living in Russia since 2013, after providing a trove of highly classified material to journalists.
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“It makes [Comey] not a security service director but a civil activist advocating a certain belief,” Putin said. “By the way, if he faces any kind of prosecution in this regard, we will provide political asylum in Russia for him as well. He should be aware of that.”
It was the second time in recent days that Putin has discussed Snowden and his leak of U.S. secrets. In an interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone, which is being broadcast in episodes on the cable network Showtime, the Russian president appeared to offer a limited defense of the man that many U.S. officials have accused of treason.
“Snowden is not a traitor,” Putin said. “He didn’t betray the interests of his country, nor did he transfer any information to any other country.”