Attorney General William Barr said he would be “vehemently opposed” to President Trump pardoning former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, a move Trump suggested over the weekend that he was mulling.
“He was a traitor and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people,” Barr told the Associated Press. “He was peddling it around like a commercial merchant. We can’t tolerate that.”
Snowden was charged with espionage in 2013 after he stole and leaked documents to the media containing classified details about U.S. surveillance programs. The former CIA contractor initially fled to Hong Kong but is currently living in exile in Russia since charges of violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property were announced against him. Among the information Snowden disclosed were details about U.S. surveillance on Chinese telecommunications company Huawei as well as details about Australia’s spying in Asia.
“There are many, many people — it seems to be a split decision that many people think that he should be somehow treated differently, and other people think he did very bad things,” Trump said Saturday at a press conference about Snowden. “And I’m going to take a very good look at it.”
Snowden has defended his actions as an effort to expose constitutional violations and “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
“I took an oath to support and defend the constitution and what I saw was the constitution being violated on a massive scale,” the whistleblower said in 2014.
“I realized that I was crazy to have imagined that the Supreme Court, or Congress, or President Obama, seeking to distance his administration from President George W. Bush’s, would ever hold the IC legally responsible — for anything,” Snowden wrote in his memoir published last year, referring to the intelligence community.
However, critics warn that a pardon for Snowden would send the message to leakers that their actions disclosing sensitive information and potentially threatening U.S. national security will not have consequences.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Snowden fled to Russia. Snowden did not flee to Russia but fled initially to Hong Kong.