LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A former American CIA agent released from prison in Portugal hours before her planned extradition to Italy is thanking President Donald Trump for what she describes as his administration's intervention in her case.
Sabrina de Sousa told The Associated Press on Thursday that U.S. officials were in contact with authorities in both Portugal and Italy ahead of her release.
Officials in the United States and Italy did not immediately comment. The Portuguese Foreign Ministry, in a brief written comment to the AP, said in Portugal the "legal process is conducted only by judicial authorities, without interference from political powers. That is true for this case."
De Sousa walked free Wednesday, a day after Italy dropped its extradition request. An Italian court had convicted her of taking part in the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan 14 years ago as part of the U.S. "extraordinary rendition" anti-terrorism program, which was launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The program saw suspects kidnapped and transferred to centers abroad, where they were interrogated and often tortured.
De Sousa was arrested on a European warrant at Lisbon Airport in October 2015 while en route to India to visit her mother. She repeatedly fought her extradition and complained that former President Barack Obama's administration had abandoned her.
She lost several appeals after her arrest. But on Tuesday, Italian President Sergio Mattarella granted her partial clemency, shaving one year off her four-year sentence. She could now serve community service instead of prison time, possibly in Portugal or Italy.
After her release, de Sousa tweeted to Trump: "THANKYOU!! Your admin did more on my case in the last 30 days than was done in prior 8 years!"
She directed requests for further details to her spokesman, former Michigan Congressman Peter Hoekstra, who confirmed that the Trump administration was involved. He said in an email to the AP that he worked with "a number of different agencies/groups within the (Trump) administration," as well as some former colleagues in Congress. He did not name anyone.
"The administration was totally responsive, professional, focused," Hoekstra said, adding that the U.S. embassy in Lisbon was also "very helpful." The embassy did not immediately reply to questions.
In evaluating de Sousa's request for clemency, Mattarella's office said he took into account "that the United States has interrupted the practice of extraordinary renditions" — a reference to the Obama administration's decision to halt the program.
De Sousa was one of 26 Americans tried and convicted in absentia for the cleric's kidnapping. Full or partial clemency has been granted in just four of the cases.