- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday equated fired FBI Director James B. Comey to NSA leaker Edward Snowden over the former’s decision to disclose details about his private conversations with President Trump.

“It looks weird when the chief of a security agency records his conversation with the commander-in-chief and then hands it over to media via his friend,” Mr. Putin said Thursday.

“What’s the difference then between the FBI director and Mr. Snowden? In that case, he’s more of a rights campaigner defending a certain position than the security agency chief,” Mr. Putin added, as translated by The Associated Press.

Mr. Snowden, a former NSA contractor, was given political asylum by Russia in 2013 after leaking thousands of classified documents involving the U.S. intelligence community’s vast surveillance capabilities to members of the media. He’s considered a fugitive by the Justice Department and is wanted for charges of theft and espionage.

Mr. Comey, meanwhile, admitted last week to having recently disclosed details involving his private conversations with the president.

Mr. Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee last Tuesday that he memorialized a handful of private exchanges between the president and himself prior to being fired on May 9. The former FBI director said he later shared portions of those memos with a confidant upon being terminated who in turn contacted the media and disclosed their contents. The disclosure to the media came after Mr. Trump tweeted about possible “tapes” of their discussion.

Mr. Trump, his attorneys and Republican supporters have since accused Mr. Comey of illegally leaking “privileged information,” and have suggested that he be criminally investigated.

“If he continues to be persecuted in this connection, we will be ready to provide political asylum to him, he should know about that,” Mr. Putin said Thursday with respect to Mr. Comey, according to TASS, a Moscow-owned newswire.

The AP described Mr. Putin’s offer as “acerbic” and part of a “sarcastic outburst.”

Mr. Snowden did not immediately respond to requests to comment on the comparison.

The Russian president’s remarks came during one his marathon question-and-answer sessions widely covered by regional media, the likes of which unfolded less than 24 hours after the U.S. Senate voted in favor of imposing new sanctions against Moscow for allegedly meddling in last year’s White House race. He called the sanctions an effort to “contain” Russia, and said existing restrictions have made the country stronger.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Mr. Putin interfered in last year’s race by using state-sponsored hackers and Russia’s propaganda apparatus to target Mr. Trump’s opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. While Russia has denied the allegations, the Justice Department as well as lawmakers in the House and Senate have since launched investigations of their own related to Moscow’s involvement in last year’s election and any possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, multiple outlets reported that Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the Justice Department’s Russian probe, is investigating Mr. Trump for obstruction of justice.

The White House has adamantly rejected allegations that Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, and the president called Wednesday’s reports a “phony story.”

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