June 28, 2013 at 7:30 AM ET
The father of Edward Snowden acknowledged Friday that his son broke U.S. law, but maintained that he is not a traitor for releasing classified information about the government’s previously secret surveillance programs.
“At this point I don't feel that he's committed treason. He has in fact broken U.S. law, in a sense that he has released classified information,” Lonnie Snowden told NBC’s Michael Isikoff in an exclusive interview that aired on TODAY. “And if folks want to classify him as a traitor, in fact he has betrayed his government. But I don't believe that he's betrayed the people of the United States. “
Snowden said he has told Attorney General Eric Holder through his lawyer that his son will probably return home if the Justice Department promises not to detain him before a trial nor subject him to a gag order. He also wants his son to choose where a trial would take place.
Edward Snowden’s current whereabouts are unknown. The former National Security Agency contractor is being sought for leaking top-secret documents that revealed the government’s widespread surveillance programs.
On Sunday, he reportedly flew to Moscow on his reported path to Ecuador, where officials in the South American nation have offered him asylum.
But on Thursday, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa described the case as a “complex situation” because Snowden must be physically in the country or inside an Ecuadorean embassy for his asylum application to be processed.
"For that to happen, a country would have to allow him to enter its territory, which has not come about yet," Correa said. “We don’t know it’ll be resolved.”
In a diplomatic slap to the United States, Correa also renounced a multimillion-dollar trade deal up for renewal between the two countries, saying any agreement would not be influenced by the Snowden case.
Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, promised to block renewal of the pact if Snowden were to receive asylum.
"Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior," he said in a statement.
That prompted Ecuador’s Correa to renounce the trade deal as part of a “blackmail" scheme.
"Do not threaten us with removing the preferential tariffs. We unilaterally and irrevocably waive them,” he said. “You can keep them.”
Snowden has reportedly been getting help in his escape plan from WikiLeaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, has been sheltered in Ecuador’s London embassy for the past year.
Lonnie Snowden has not spoken to his son since April, but he fears that Edward may be manipulated by WikiLeaks handlers and would like to get in touch with him.
“I don't want to put him in peril, but I am concerned about those who surround him,” Lonnie Snowden said. “I think WikiLeaks, if you've looked at past history, you know, their focus isn't necessarily the Constitution of the United States. It's simply to release as much information as possible.”