U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has said he would be “vehemently opposed” to any effort to pardon for former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden after President Donald Trump said he was considering a pardon for the man, who leaked classified government information.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Barr said Snowden “was a traitor and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people.” Barr also said Snowden “was peddling [classified information] around like a commercial merchant. We can’t tolerate that.”
Snowden currently resides in exile in Russia after leaking classified information in 2013 about the NSA’s surveillance programs, which mass gathered telephone and Internet records in order to search out terrorist plots. Snowden provided information about those surveillance programs to members of the news media.
During a press briefing, last weekend at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump raised the idea of a potential Snowden pardon and said “I’m going to take a look at that very strongly.” Trump said many figures on both sides of the political aisle are divided on the idea of such a pardon.
“It seems to be a split decision,” Trump said. “Many people think he should be somehow treated differently, and other people think he did very bad things.”
Trump added, “There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly. I mean, I hear that.”
Barr is not the only one to come out in opposition to Trump’s Snowden pardon talk. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) wrote a joint letter urging Trump against such a pardon.
“Edward Snowden did enormous harm to our national security and he must stand trial for his actions. President Trump and Secretary Esper have both decried harmful leaks from the Department of Defense and elsewhere in the federal government,” Smith and Thornberry’s letter read. “To pardon Snowden now would completely undermine this Administration’s position and mock our national security workforce who take immense caution in their work to keep us safe.”
The Smith and Thornberry letter noted Trump has also raised complaints against leaks from within his administration. Trump has in the past described White House leakers as “traitors.”
During his pardon remarks, Trump appeared to compare Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance programs to concerns he has had about surveillance of his presidential campaign, including FBI efforts to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) warrants to surveil his campaign. Trump said it was unfair that people like ex-FBI Director James Comey are free while Snowden remains in legal jeopardy.
In one of his first appearances as Attorney General, Barr raised concern about the potential that surveillance powers could have been abused to target Trump’s campaign and said “I think spying did occur,” against the Trump campaign. At the time, Barr added, “The question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicted, and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”
A former FBI lawyer did recently plead guilty to altering documents used to renew a FISA surveillance warrant on a Trump campaign official.
Snowden himself has welcomed Trump’s talk of a potential pardon.
After Trump’s initial comments, Snowden tweeted, “The last time we heard a White House considering a pardon was 2016, when the very same Attorney General who once charged me conceded that, on balance, my work in exposing the NSA’s unconstitutional system of mass surveillance had been ‘a public service.’”
The last time we heard a White House considering a pardon was 2016, when the very same Attorney General who once charged me conceded that, on balance, my work in exposing the NSA’s unconstitutional system of mass surveillance had been “a public service.” https://t.co/fAseViVwAx
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) August 14, 2020