NEW: Venezuela says Edward Snowden formally applied for asylum
Nicaragua has said it would consider asylum "if the circumstances permit"
Venezuela and Bolivia have also offered the former NSA contractor asylum
Snowden says he's trying to stop "excesses of government"
Still a man without a country and stuck in a Moscow airport, U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden appears to have several options available as he seeks asylum.
Venezuela has extended an offer of asylum to Snowden; President Nicolas Maduro said his government received a formal asylum request from Snowden and is now waiting to hear back from him, a government spokesman said Monday.
If Snowden accepts asylum in Venezuela, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told state-run VTV over the weekend, “we will have to be in contact with the government of the Russian Federation. He is there. Obviously, he is not in Venezuelan territory. We would have to get the opinion of the Russian government about it.”
Venezuela is one of three left-leaning Latin American nations that, to varying degrees, have said they’d welcome Snowden. The others are Bolivia, which has offered asylum, and Nicaragua, which has said it would consider it.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who faces espionage charges in the United States, is slammed as a traitor by critics and hailed as a hero by his supporters.
He remains in limbo more than two weeks after arriving at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport from Hong Kong.
Snowden speaks out
In his asylum request to Nicaragua, Snowden argued he had exposed serious violations of the U.S. Constitution when he revealed details about U.S. surveillance programs. He compared his case to Ecuador’s granting of asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arguing there is already an “international precedent for providing asylum to figures in my circumstances.” And he said the ongoing trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning shows what could happen to him if he returns to the United States.
“It is unlikely I would receive a fair trial and proper treatment prior to that trial, and face the possibility of life in prison and even death,” he wrote, according to a copy of the letter published by Nicaraguan state media Sunday.
Meanwhile, the British newspaper The Guardian’s posted new video on its website Monday of an interview it conducted with Snowden on June 6.
In the interview, Snowden told the paper he knew the U.S. government would accuse him of violating the Espionage Act and aiding enemies of the United States after he leaked documents about U.S. surveillance programs.
“But that argument can be made against anybody who reveals information that points out mass surveillance systems, because fundamentally, they apply equally to ourselves as they do to our enemies,” he said.
The former NSA contractor also said deciding to release the documents wasn’t easy. When he started out in the intelligence community, Snowden said, he believed in the goodness of the American government. But over time, he said, he saw what he felt were abuses of power.
“I have watched and waited and tried to do my job in the most policy-driven way that I could, which is to wait and allow other people, leadership, to sort of correct the excesses of government if we go too far,” he said, “but that’s not occurring and, in fact, we’re compounding the excesses of prior governments and making things more invasive, and no one is really standing to stop it.”
Warnings from U.S. lawmakers
American politicians from both parties warned nations to consider what’s at stake should they grant Snowden asylum.
“It’s very clear that any of these countries that accept Snowden and offer him political asylum is taking a step against the United States. It’s making a very clear statement. I’m not surprised by the countries that are offering him asylum; they like sticking it to the United States,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested serious trade and policy implications await countries that accept Snowden.
“Clearly any such acceptance of Snowden to any country, any of these three or any other, is going to put them directly against the United States, and they need to know that,” Menendez told “Meet the Press.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, agreed with Menendez, calling for action from the United States.
“We shouldn’t just allow this to happen and shrug it off. This is serious business. Those Latin American companies enjoy certain trade benefits with the United States. We ought to look at all of that to send a very clear message that we won’t put up with this kind of behavior,” the Michigan Republican told CNN’s Candy Crowley on “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Rogers said the countries willing to accept Snowden are using the former intelligence worker as a “public relations tool.”
Offers from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua
With the United States flexing its international clout, Snowden had faced a string of rejections to asylum requests. The Latin American countries were the first to respond in the positive.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who became part of the saga last week when his presidential plane was denied permission to enter the airspace of several European countries amid a rumor about Snowden being aboard, said his country is “willing to give asylum.”
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has said he would grant Snowden asylum “if the circumstances permit.”
“We are an open country, respectful of the right of asylum … and it is clear that if the circumstances permit it, we would gladly receive Snowden and give him asylum here in Nicaragua,” Ortega said last week.
The asylum offers could provide Snowden a chance to evade U.S. authorities, though it is unclear how he would get to Venezuela or the other countries.
In a speech Sunday, Cuban President Raul Castro said he supports the Latin American countries’ rights to grant asylum.
“We back the sovereign right of Venezuela and all the states in the region to grant asylum to those persecuted for their ideals or fights for democratic rights, according to our tradition,” he said.
Snowden’s exit from Russia would provide relief to authorities there, who appear weary of the American’s presence at the airport.
Alexei Pushkov, head of the lower Russian legislative body, the Duma, recommended Snowden leave the airport, where he has been holed up since June 23.
“Sanctuary for Snowden in Venezuela would be the best solution,” Pushkov tweeted Saturday. “He can’t live in at Sheremetyevo.”
Bolivia’s ‘fair protest’
Bolivia’s position on asylum follows outrage by its president over his sidetracked trip from Russia last week.
Several European countries refused to allow Morales’ plane through their airspace Tuesday because of suspicions Snowden was aboard. With no clear path home available, the flight crew made an unscheduled landing in Vienna, Austria, where authorities confirmed Snowden was not a passenger.
Bolivia’s asylum offer is a “fair protest” to the incident, which involved Portugal, Italy, France and Spain, Morales said. Spain has said it did not restrict its airspace.
On Monday, Bolivia summoned the four countries’ ambassadors, demanding answers over what happened, Communications Minister Amanda Davila told reporters.
Irish court denies U.S. arrest warrant request
As the global guessing game over Snowden’s next steps continues, the United States has asked a number of countries to arrest him and send him back to the United States if he sets foot in their territories.
Bolivia said last week that it was sending back a request that U.S. officials made to the South American nation.
And a judge in Ireland’s High Court Monday denied a request from the United States to issue an arrest warrant for Snowden, ruling that the United States had failed to indicate where Snowden’s alleged offenses took place.
In a statement Monday, Ireland’s justice minister said the court’s ruling would not prevent the United States from submitting a new application for a provisional arrest warrant.
CNN’s Rachel Streitfeld, Patrick Oppmann, Dana Davidsen and Melissa Gray and journalist Peter Taggart contributed to this report.