Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday shot down a suggestion from a fellow Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), that the U.S. consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia if the Cold War-era foe grants asylum to Edward Snowden.
“I love Sen. Graham. We’ve been close friends for 20 years, but I think he’s dead wrong,” Boehner told reporters when asked about Graham’s comments on Capitol Hill. “Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who’ve been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can’t find a place to call home?”
“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham said about a possible boycott.
“It might help because what they’re doing is outrageous,” Graham added. “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum, it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”
A top Russian lawmaker on Wednesday slammed Graham’s suggestion, saying such comments belonged in the past.
“Sen. Graham's calls to boycott Olympic games because of the Snowden affair kicks us back to the remote past, to the times of mutual boycotts when our two countries looked at each other through, figuratively speaking, nuclear sight,” said Alexey Pushkov, the head of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee. “I'm sure that these times are in the past.”
Snowden is seeking to avoid extradition back to the U.S., where he faces espionage charges. He has received asylum offers from a number of Latin American countries, but would be unable to travel there without the permission of Russia after U.S. officials voided his passport.
Snowden on Tuesday formally requested temporary asylum from Russia and agreed to comply with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand that he stop releasing information damaging to the U.S.
Both Putin and the White House, though, have said that they don’t believe the controversy will harm broader bilateral U.S.-Russia relations.
On Wednesday, Putin said that ties between the two countries are “far more important” than the Snowden controversy.
— Julian Pecquet contributed