Despite NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s pleas, there is almost no chance that President Obama will pardon him, and Trump’s pick for CIA Director has called for his execution.
Since leaking the documents revealing a secret surveillance program led by the National Security Agency, Snowden has been living in self-imposed exile in Russia — virtually the only place on the planet where he is safe from the reach of the U.S. government. The Department of Justice has charged him with two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917.
Even though the collection of the metadata in question has since been ruled unconstitutional, Mr. Obama has taken the position that he will not speak on the subject until and unless Snowden essentially turns himself in. “I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves,” the President said to a German magazine last week. “So that’s not something that I would comment on at this point.”
“I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns. How he did it was something that did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community.”
The President has the power to pardon the whistleblower even without him appearing in a court or turning himself in. The Supreme Court has ruled long ago that the president has virtually unlimited power to pardon under the U.S. Constitution.
Without a preemptive Obama pardon, Snowden will not even be able to present himself in court, but he will be doing it with an administration which is considerably less measured than that of this president. The people who have nominated as leaders of the administration so far virtually uniformly would strongly support the very program that Snowden exposed.
Trump’s pick for CIA Director, Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, has referred to him as “that traitor Edward Snowden” and has said that “he should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence.”
The ACLU has suggested that Pompeo’s positions on bulk surveillance and Guantanamo Bay alone merit the Senate turning him down for CIA Director:
“Congressman Pompeo’s positions on bulk surveillance and Guantanamo Bay … raise serious civil liberties concerns about privacy and due process.”
And if Trump gets his pick for Attorney General, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions would be doling out the “due process” that he will be receiving. Sessions has a scary record on civil liberties, particularly when it comes to privacy and online surveillance.
Snowden made his case for a presidential pardon when he spoke to the Guardian in September:
“Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists – for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things.
I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed. The Congress, the courts, and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures.
At the same time, there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result.”