A key U.S. senator has told NBC News that the United States should consider boycotting the upcoming Winter Games if Russian President Vladimir Putin grants leaker Edward Snowden asylum — a suggestion that a top U.S. Olympic official quickly rejected.
"I love the Olympics, but I hate what the Russian government is doing throughout the world," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told NBC News on Tuesday. "If they give asylum to a person who I believe has committed treason against the United States, that's taking it to a new level." Graham even suggested that Putin's actions should raise the specter of the pre-World War II Berlin games hosted by Adolf Hitler's regime.
In response, U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky tweeted Wednesday, "While we acknowledge the seriousness of the issues at hand, we strongly oppose the notion that a boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is in our country's best interests."
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. government is continuing to work with Russia and hopes to see Snowden returned to the United States. "I'm not going to engage in speculation about that, and the Olympics are a long way off," he added.
And House Speaker John Boehner called Graham’s suggestion “dead wrong,” adding, “Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can’t find a place to call home?”
Why consider boycotting the Olympics, set to be held in Sochi, Russia, beginning in February 2014? Graham says that playing host of the Games gives Russia a propaganda platform to promote itself at a time when, he contends, the Russians are responsible for enabling Iran's nuclear program, threatening Israel and supporting Bashar Assad in Syria.
"If you could go back in time, would you have allowed Adolf Hitler to host the Olympics in Germany? To have the propaganda coup of inviting the world into Nazi Germany and putting on a false front?" Graham said of the Games.
"I'm not saying that Russia is Nazi Germany," Graham added, "but I am saying that the Russian government is empowering some of the most evil, hateful people in the world."
Snowden, who leaked classified documents on U.S. surveillance programs, has been effectively stranded in the Moscow airport for weeks because his U.S. passport has been revoked. The U.S. government has charged him with espionage. He recently applied for temporary asylum in Russia while he tries to plan his travel to one of the South American countries that has offered him permanent asylum.
"What I'm trying to do is let the Russians know enough is enough. How much more are we going to let them get away with before we make it real to them?" Graham said.
Russia is scheduled to host the Olympics in Sochi, a city on the Black Sea near Georgia, beginning in February 2014. The Games will be televised by NBC.
The last time they were held in what is now a Russian city -- then-Soviet Moscow in 1980 -- the U.S. led a 65-nation boycott over the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
President Jimmy Carter announced that boycott, and both the House and the Senate passed resolutions supporting the boycott.
In 1936, three years before the outbreak of war, Germany was awarded the Olympic games which allowed the rising Nazi regime to use it as a projection of power on the world stage.
Still, boycotting an Olympics is not technically up to the U.S. government to decide, according to the State Department. Instead, it's the U.S. Olympic Committee would make the final decision.
Graham said that an Olympic boycott is just one possible measure that the U.S. should consider if Russia decides to grant Snowden's temporary asylum petition.
"I don't know if putting the Olympics on the table is the right answer but I do know this: What we're doing is not working, and sitting on the sidelines and watching the Russians empower some of the most brutal people in the 21st century, and doing nothing about it is wrong," Graham said Tuesday.
"And I do know this: It was wrong to give Adolf Hitler the propaganda floor for the German Olympics."