After President Donald Trump suggested in an interview published Thursday night by the New York Post that he is open to pardoning Edward Snowden, civil liberties advocates issued a fresh wave of calls urging the president to follow through and allow the American whistleblower to return to the United States.
The U.S.-based Freedom of the Press Foundation—for which Snowden serves as board president—tweeted a link to the Post report along with a "long and varied" list of individuals who have demanded a presidential pardon for Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who famously exposed U.S. government mass surveillance by leaking classified materials in 2013.
The list of people who have called for @Snowden to be pardoned is long and varied. No matter your feelings on Trump, a Snowden pardon would be a major win for those who care about fighting back against mass surveillance in the digital age. https://t.co/pmgucTKr8Y
— Freedom of the Press (@FreedomofPress) August 14, 2020
The ACLU on Friday also responded to the report on Twitter, sharing a Los Angeles Times op-ed from September 2016 that was authored by the group's executive director Anthony Romero. He argued that "cases like Edward Snowden's are precisely the reason the president's constitutional pardon power exists."
Edward Snowden is a patriot. Our democracy is better off because of him.
As we said four years ago, the president should pardon him.https://t.co/PAsp56QDu4
— ACLU (@ACLU) August 14, 2020
According to the Post, Trump polled his aides in the Oval Office on Thursday about whether he should allow Snowden to return from Russia—where the former intelligence contractor has lived in exile since 2013—without the risk of being imprisoned in the U.S., and the president said he was open to it.
"There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly. I mean, I hear that," Trump said of Snowden. As the Post reported:
Trump's comments reflect a remarkable softening in his views about the man he once deemed a "traitor" worthy of execution. Republican lawmakers and the Justice Department's inspector general recently highlighted misuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the secret FISA court to surveil former Trump adviser Carter Page.
"Snowden is one of the people they talk about. They talk about numerous people, but he is certainly one of the people that they do talk about," Trump said on Thursday, before turning to his aides. "I guess the DOJ is looking to extradite him right now? ...It's certainly something I could look at. Many people are on his side, I will say that. I don't know him, never met him. But many people are on his side."
"How do you feel about that, Snowden? Haven't heard the name in a long time," Trump reportedly asked his staff. "I've heard it both ways. From traitor to he's being, you know, persecuted. I've heard it both ways."
Snowden pointed out in a Friday tweet that "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.'"
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That comment came from Eric Holder during a May 2016 interview with David Alexrod. Holder, who also called Snowden's actions "inappropriate and illegal," ran the Justice Department under President Barack Obama in 2013, when Snowden was charged with theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act.
Journalist Matt Taibbi tweeted in response to Snowden that the fact that the whistleblower "has been in permanent exile while the creators/defenders of the illegal surveillance program he exposed have not only gone unpunished, but have been feted and given high-profile media jobs, is an ongoing outrage."
Even some right-wing politicians joined the calls for Trump to pardon Snowden. Michigan Congressman Justin Amash—who became an Independent and then a Libertarian after leaving the Republican Party last summer—tweeted his support for the whistleblower Friday:
Edward @Snowden is a whistleblower who exposed unconstitutional surveillance practices that violated the rights of millions. He deserves the opportunity to return to the United States and receive a pardon as part of a fair process that examines his actions. https://t.co/JqVccAYd41
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) August 14, 2020
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) also said in a series of tweets Friday that the president should pardon Snowden—prompting a response from Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks: "Wow. I agree. Do you believe in miracles?"
Wow. I agree. Do you believe in miracles? The more you take money out of the equation, the more the left and right-wing can agree. We should end Snowden's absurd exile. He's an American hero. https://t.co/pkYgIrRicQ
— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) August 14, 2020
The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald, who was was among the first journalists to report on leaked documents from Snowden, wrote in a long thread of tweets Friday that Trump talking about a pardon for Snowden and Massie expressing his support for one "should not obscure that this is not a right-wing view."
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 14, 2020
And now conservatives see how easily NSA’s mass surveillance system, and the entire intelligence community apparatus, can be weaponized & abused for improper ends.
What Snowden showed the world was crucial for it to know. He’s spent 7 years in exile. He should be pardoned.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 14, 2020
Greenwald also shared the ideologically diverse list of signatories to the Stand with Snowden pledge and said it is "good to see" that Trump is "now open to the view of the ACLU and the New York Times, among others, that Snowden is a heroic whistleblower."