Attorney General William Barr said that he opposes the possibility of pardoning Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who fled the country after releasing a trove of U.S. classified information in 2013.
This comes after President Donald Trump said at a press conference last week that he was going to “start looking at” a possible pardon for Snowden, who was charged under the Espionage Act in 2013 for the disclosure.
On Friday, the attorney general told the Associated Press that he was “vehemently opposed” at the idea of pardoning the 37-year-old former NSA contractor.
“He was a traitor and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people,” Barr told the news wire. “He was peddling it around like a commercial merchant. We can’t tolerate that.”
Snowden fled to Russia and was given asylum in 2013 after his leaks exposed a vast domestic and international surveillance operation carried out by the NSA. U.S. authorities have since sought to have Snowden return to face criminal espionage charges.
Snowden published a memoir, “Permanent Record,” in September 2019 that detailed his childhood and his tenure at the Central Intelligence Agency and NSA. Shortly after the publication, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Snowden alleging that the book breached nondisclosure agreements with the U.S. government.
Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, Britain’s GCHQ, and other intelligence agencies sparked an international debate about spies’ powers to monitor personal communications, and about the balance between security and privacy. Critics say his disclosures harmed the ability of the United States and its allies to fight terrorism.
Barr is not the only person who expressed concern about a possible pardon for Snowden. Leaders of the House Armed Services Committee released a joint statement urging Trump from granting Snowden reprieve.
“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. 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,” committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), and ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in the statement.
“It would be a serious mistake to pardon anyone who is charged under the Espionage Act, who admits to leaking sensitive information, and who has spent years since then as a guest of the Putin regime. Not only would it mean that Snowden cannot be held accountable for his crimes, but it would send a dangerous message to others who are contemplating espionage and the adversaries who would support them.”
Trump had previously criticized Snowden, calling him “a spy who should be executed,” a “terrible threat,” and a “terrible traitor.”
Ivan Pentchoukov and the Associated Press contributed to this report.