President Donald Trump said on Saturday he was considering pardoning Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor – now living in Russia – whose spectacular leaks rocked the U.S. intelligence community in 2013.
The president’s comments follow an interview Trump gave The New York Post this week in which he said of Snowden that “there are a lot of people who think he is not being treated fairly” by American law enforcement.
U.S. authorities have wanted Snowden to return to the United States for years to face a criminal trial on espionage charges in 2013.
Snowden fled the United States and was granted asylum in Russia after leaking a trove of secret files in 2013 to news outlets that exposed extensive national and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA.
Trump’s softening of stance on Snowden represents a clear reversal. Shortly after the leaks, Trump expressed his hostility towards Snowden, calling him “a spy who should be executed.”
“I’m going to start thinking about it,” Trump told reporters of a possible pardon, during a press conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Trump has said he believes Americans on the left and right are divided over Snowden.
“It seems like a split decision,” Trump told reporters. “A lot of people think he should be treated differently. And other people think he did some really bad things.
Some civilian libertarians have praised Snowden for revealing the extraordinary scope of U.S. digital espionage operations, including domestic spy programs that senior U.S. officials publicly insisted were absent.
But such a move would horrify many in the U.S. intelligence community, some of whose most important secrets have been revealed. Trump has harshly criticized former leaders of the U.S. intelligence community and the FBI, and on Thursday attacked the office’s current director, Christopher Wray, his own attorney.
The US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit last September against Snowden, arguing that its recently released memoir, “Permanent Record,” violated non-disclosure agreements.
The Justice Department said Snowden published the book without submitting it to intelligence agencies for review, adding that the speeches Snowden gave also violated non-disclosure agreements.
Trump’s use of his executive clemency powers, including pardons, has often benefited well-connected allies and politicians.
Last month he commuted the sentence of his friend and longtime adviser Roger Stone, sparing him from prison after he was convicted of lying under oath to lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the US election. of 2016 to bolster Trump’s candidacy.