In a surprise move earlier this month, President Donald Trump expressed openness to the idea of pardoning Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who leaked in 2013 classified information about the federal government’s ongoing surveillance of American citizens. But while the president told the New York Post that he knows people on both sides of the political aisle who want to see Snowden cleared of any wrongdoing, not everyone in the Trump administration would be happy with such a move.
According to the Washington Examiner, Attorney General Bill Barr said in a stunning interview with the Associated Press that Trump should say no to a pardon for Snowden. Barr told the AP he is “vehemently opposed” to letting Snowden off the hook, the Examiner reported.
“He was a traitor, and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people,” Barr said of Snowden, who sought asylum in Russia after he was charged by U.S. officials over alleged violations of the Espionage Act, according to the Examiner. “He was peddling it around like a commercial merchant. We can’t tolerate that.”
“A split decision”
Trump first floated the idea of a pardon for Snowden in an exclusive interview with the New York Post in mid-August. Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump said he would “take a look at” the issue “very strongly.”
“I’m going to start looking at it. There are many, many people, it seems to be a split decision,” the president reportedly told the Post. “Many people think that he should be somehow treated differently and other people think he did very bad things.”
Trump again promised to “start looking at it” at a press conference in New Jersey days later, Reuters noted.
But Barr isn’t the only Trump ally who doesn’t want to see the president issue a pardon for the former NSA contractor. In a tweet early last week, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) said if Snowden ever returns to the U.S., “he should immediately be tried for his crimes against our country,” the Examiner reported.
“I’m confident President Trump understands the crimes committed by Snowden resulted in American forces — and those who assisted us throughout the world — being placed in greater danger,” Graham added in a later tweet.
He went on: “To those who suggest a pardon of Edward Snowden for his treasonous acts, you are doing a great disservice to those who suffered from his betrayal of his nation.”
Patriot, or traitor?
It remains to be seen whether Trump will side with Barr and Graham or join with those who think Snowden was treated unfairly for leaking what Reuters described as “a trove of secret files in 2013 to news organizations that revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA.”
In the meantime, Snowden’s Russia-based attorney says his client isn’t a traitor, but a patriot.
“He was acting not only in the interest of the American citizens, but in the interest of all the humankind,” Anatoly Kucherena told reporters, according to Reuters.