Once again President Trump's anti-establishment and 'anti-deep state' instincts look like they'll be promptly reigned in by those around him. He shocked leaders in Congress and within his own administration when one week ago he mused openly in a New York Post interview that maybe Edward Snowden should be pardoned. In follow-up he said at a press briefing last Saturday “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.” And further that: “I’m going to take a very good look at it.”
The president raised eyebrows and anxiety across the D.C. beltway with his unprecedented remarks: “There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly. I mean, I hear that,” he had initially told NY Post, before adding: “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.” This immediately raised hopes among those that hail the NSA leaker as a whistleblower who exposed deeply unconstitutional surveillance of the domestic populace that he might one day soon see freedom.
But now Attorney General William Barr is throwing cold water on such a bold prospect, saying to the Associated Press on Friday that he'd be “vehemently opposed” to any initiative to pardon Snowden, who remains on the run from US authorities - but given asylum in Russia. If he were to return to the United States he would face severe charges related to the Espionage Act and spilling of state secrets, which would certainly bring life imprisonment.
“He was a traitor and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people,” Barr said in the new comments. Interestingly, Trump's own view as expressed years ago was that Snowden was a "traitor".
Barr's latest comments frame Snowden's actions as motivated by money and fame, and not of out of a sense of patriotism or concern for upholding the Constitution: “He was peddling it around like a commercial merchant. We can’t tolerate that,” Barr added firmly.
Recall that last year the DOJ under Barr fought to ensure that Snowden wouldn't see any money generated from US sales of his tell-all book Permanent Record.
Critics have still claimed that Snowden has raked in millions from his online remote appearances at conferences, and in speaking events and interviews.
This whole latest discussion as to the administration's stance on Snowden had arisen when in the NY Post interview Trump's former advisor Carter Page was brought up in connection with allegations of abuse and illegal surveillance under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the secret FISA court.
After years of the whole sordid 'Russiagate' saga, it appears Trump has formed a new perspective and appreciation for just what Snowden was exposing, and what the government contractor was up against.