Several leading voices on national security diverged on the question of whether NSA leaker Edward Snowden should be granted some form of clemency to coax him back to the United States on Sunday, with one Republican senator calling for a “fair trial and a reasonable sentence” and a pair of Democrats saying he deserves to have the book thrown at him.
The question of clemency was originally raised by Richard Ledgett, an NSA official who told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in December that it was “worth having a conversation” about the matter, given the threat Snowden continues to pose to U.S. national security.
The White House brushed aside the suggestion, hewing closely to the line that Snowden should return home and face the consequences of his actions, period.
But a pair of newspaper editorials this week, one from the New York Times and another from the Guardian, reinvigorated the debate by calling for Snowden to be granted clemency.
On Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a libertarian-minded Republican who has defended Snowden in the past, admitted that Snowden broke the law but argued that his infraction pales in comparison to the greater transgressions he revealed on the part of the intelligence community.
“Do I think that it’s OK to leak secrets and give up national secrets and things that could endanger lives? I don’t think that’s OK,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But I think the courts are now saying that what he revealed was something the government was doing was illegal.”
Paul’s implication that Snowden’s ends justified his means yielded a call for leniency.
“I don’t think Edward Snowden deserves the death penalty or life in prison. I think that’s inappropriate. And I think that’s why he fled, because that’s what he faced,” he said. “I think the only way he’s coming home is if someone would offer him a fair trial with a reasonable sentence.”
Appearing after Paul on ABC, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., offered an opposing take.
“I disagree with Rand Paul that we should plea bargain with him prior to him coming back,” Schumer said. “If he’s truly in the tradition of civil disobedience, he comes back and faces the trial and the consequences that the government says he should.
“Snowden says that he’s in the grand tradition of civil disobedience in this country. It is a grand tradition. Part of that tradition is you pay the consequences. If you break the law because your conscience says you have to, you stand trial…and pay the consequences. That’s what Martin Luther King did, Mahatma Gandhi over in India,” Schumer said. “So what Snowden ought to do is come back and stand trial and face the consequences. And he’ll have his ample opportunity to say why he did what he did and all of that.”
Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also advocated a stricter approach on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying that Snowden has “exacted quite a bit of damage.”
“From where I sit today, I would not put clemency on the table at all,” she said. “I would rule it out. He has, by individual fiat, leaked very extensive information.
“The president has been very clear, was very clear with me when I was secretary, that there needed to be discussion and open dialogue about the balance between privacy and our privacy values then and security,” she said. “There is a right balance to be struck here…Mr. Snowden just decided to go off on his own. And he did exact quite a bit of damage in my judgment.”
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