If James Comey faces persecution for giving the media a memo detailing his interactions with President Trump, Vladimir Putin would happily grant the former FBI director asylum in Moscow, the Russian president and unrepentant troll said Thursday.
Speaking at his annual question-and-answer session in Moscow, Putin compared Comey to Edward Snowden and called him a “civil activist” before making his offer of asylum.
Putin addressed other topics related to the U.S. during the Q&A, which largely touched on local issues and fishing stories (Putin’s biggest fish was 44 pounds). While Putin said the U.S. is not the enemy of Russia, he also came as close as he ever has to admitting the country’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections, reportedly saying, “They meddle in all other countries affairs, what did they expect?”
He also criticized the U.S. for its involvement in other countries. “Turn a globe and point your finger anywhere, you will find American interests and interference there,” he said.
It’s hard to know what to make of this tacit admission given all of Putin’s past denials. One possible explanation, floated recently by cyberpolicy expert Tim Mauer in the Washington Post, is that Putin is having a hard time maintaining his blanket denial of Russia’s election hacking in the face of so much mounting evidence to the contrary.
With the recent allegations about Russia’s military intelligence targeting U.S. voting software suppliers, more and more details are becoming available about what looks like a comprehensive, multifaceted operation targeting U.S. elections in 2016. After the Kremlin tried to deflect initial reports about the Kremlin’s involvement as “nonsense,” such attempts are losing their effectiveness as more and more details to the contrary come to light. Bear in mind that this issue is not only closely watched in the U.S. but around the world and Moscow needs to be mindful of the court of public opinion not just in Washington but elsewhere, be it Beijing, New Delhi or Berlin.
This could explain Putin’s creeping movement toward an admission, which began a couple weeks ago when he suggested that “patriotic” Russians might have hacked the election without the Kremlin’s knowledge. Now he’s saying that Russia was only doing to the U.S. what it does to everyone else. How long until he’s admitting meddling in the election and arguing that Russia had no choice?