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Tulsi Gabbard introduces bills to drop charges against Snowden, Assange, reform Espionage Act

U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. (Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
October 08, 2020

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) tweeted her announcement of three new bills on Tuesday, which include two resolutions to drop espionage charges against NSA leaker Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks owner Julian Assange, and a third bill proposing reforms to the Espionage Act.

“Brave whistleblowers exposing lies & illegal actions in our government must be protected,” Gabbard tweeted. “Join me and urge Congress: Pass my bipartisan legislation (HRes1162, HRes1175, HR8452) calling for charges against @snowden & Assange to be dropped & to reform the Espionage Act.#PassItOn.”

“Every single one of us, as Americans, are guaranteed basic fundamental rights and freedoms that are enshrined in our constitution,” Gabbard said in a statement announcing the three bills. “But we cannot take these freedoms for granted. I’ve introduced legislation to stand up for and to protect brave whistleblowers who’ve come forward to expose illegal actions within our own government or egregious abuses of power and to reform the Espionage Act.”

No copy or summary of HR8452, the bill proposing changes to the overall Espionage Act, is available on Congress’ website, but in a press release describing her proposed reforms to the Espionage Act, Gabbard said, “When brave whistleblowers come forward to expose wrongdoing within our government, they must have the confidence that they, and the press who publishes this information, will be protected from government retaliation.”

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HRES1162 is the resolution to calling to drop charges against Snowden. The resolution notes a May 2013 congressional hearing, in which then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked whether the NSA collected “data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans’’, to which Clapper replied ‘‘No, sir’’, and added ‘‘not wittingly.” Gabbard’s resolution states that Snowden, in June of that same year, leaked documents to journalists detailing the “bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records from telecommunications providers by the intelligence community was occurring.”

The bipartisan resolution calling to drop charges against Snowden was cosponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).

“Edward Snowden has been unfairly villainized and persecuted for disclosing the true scope of illegal government surveillance. This is unjust. The Ninth Circuit’s recent ruling, holding that the NSA’s bulk collection program was unconstitutional, vindicates him. Charges against Snowden should be dropped,” Gaetz said in a statement supporting the bill. “If anyone deserves to face punishment, it should be James Clapper, who lied under oath about the NSA’s data collection activities, and has never been charged.”

In August, President Donald Trump also suggested he was looking into pardoning Snowden, though Attorney General Bill Barr said he would be “vehemently opposed” to the idea.

HRES1175 calling to drop charges against Assange, stating, “the freedom of news organizations to acquire and publish information is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution.” Assange faces charges under the Espionage Act after WikiLeaks received classified information from leakers, which they then published.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) cosponsored the resolution to drop charges against Assange.

Massie said, “The ongoing attempts to prosecute Julian Assange threaten our First Amendment rights, and should be opposed by all who wish to safeguard our constitutional rights now and in the years to come.”