Snowden to Extend Russia Stay Amid Rumors of Pre-Election Trump Pardon

American whistleblower Edward Snowden will apply to extend his stay in Russia for another three years, his lawyer said Tuesday, despite rumors that President Donald Trump may be considering a pardon.

Snowden fled the U.S. in 2013, leaking a huge trove of classified documents which uncovered the National Security Agency's mass surveillance program, which included snooping on American and foreign citizens as well as foreign leaders.

Snowden was granted asylum in Russia in 2014, fleeing prosecution in the U.S. American officials have repeatedly said they intend to jail Snowden if he can be brought back to the U.S. The 37 year old may face as long as 20 years behind bars for two counts of violating the Espionage Act.

Snowden's Russia residence permit was due to expire on April 30, but was automatically extended to June 15 due to the coronavirus lockdown in the country. His lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told reporters Tuesday that Snowden applied for an extension as soon as the lockdown ended, though the documents were not submitted before June 15.

"Now, regarding Edward Snowden and the extension of his residence permit: Snowden is a law-abiding person, and he resides on the territory of Russia," Kucherena said, according to the Russian Tass state news agency.

"When the coronavirus lockdowns were imposed, he stayed at home, just like everybody else, observing the self-isolation regime. As soon as the quarantine was over, Edward and I filed documents to have his residence permit extended."

American officials have consistently said Snowden is a traitor who undermined U.S. intelligence capabilities via his leaks, though the activities he uncovered have been ruled unlawful by the U.S. Court of Appeals. His supporters say Snowden is a hero for shining a light on frenzied and possibly unconstitutional U.S. intelligence activity in the aftermath of 9/11 and during the global War on Terror.

Trump said last month he would consider a pardon for Snowden. The president told reporters: "There are many, many people — it seems to be a split decision — many people think that he should be somehow be treated differently and other people think he did very bad things."

"I'm going to take a very good look at it," the president added. But he will face opposition from within his own administration. Attorney General Bill Barr, for example, said he remains "vehemently opposed" to any clemency.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also a long-time Snowden critics, suggesting in both 2013 and 2016 that the whistleblower should be executed for treason.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz—a staunch Trump supporter whose public displays of loyalty have won him the president's ear—said last week after the U.S. Court of Appeals decision that he hoped the commander in chief would pardon Snowden.

"If it were not for Snowden, we might not know today that our own government was engaged in an activity that now a federal appellate court has deemed illegal," Gaetz said.

In 2013, then-National Intelligence Director James Clapper told Congress that the U.S. did not "wittingly" collect data on Americans. Gaetz said: "Clearly, Clapper wasn't telling the truth. But you know who did tell the American people the truth? Edward Snowden."

Gaetz also suggested that pardoning Snowden might win him electoral support in key swing states ahead of the November presidential election, according to the Pensacola News Journal. Gaetz said such a move would appeal to libertarians opposed to the unchecked activities of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Edward Snowden, Donald Trump, Russia, pardon, election
Computer security consultant Edward Snowden is pictured on a video connection from Russia during the Wired Next Fest 2019 at the Giardini Indro Montanelli on May 26, 2019 in Milan, Italy. Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images/Getty