By Mike Lillis - 01/07/14 01:29 PM EST
“We cannot have people who are given secret clearances going to foreign governments — particularly hostile governments — and exposing information that could prove fatal to people, but also could prove very harmful to the interests of the United States,” Hoyer said during a press conference in the Capitol.
“Has Snowden raised serious questions? He has. Is there going to be debate about those serious questions? There will be. Is there concern about the role that the National Security Agency plays in terms of the collection of information? There is. Should all of that be considered? It will be,” Hoyer said.
“But I don't think that Snowden can be exculpated from the actions that he took, clearly in violation of law and violation of his oath when he received secrecy clearances,” he added. “To do so would encourage others to [leak similar documents] with perhaps even more devastating consequences.”
Claiming disenchantment with the scope of the NSA's surveillance programs, Snowden, then an NSA contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked a number of documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers in the first half of 2013. The leaks led to a series of reports unveiling NSA programs that have swept up billions of communications from American citizens at home and abroad.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong, and later Russia, as the federal government charged him during the summer with theft and espionage.
The saga has made Snowden a hero in the eyes of many civil libertarians, who contend the NSA programs encroach on constitutional rights. Fueling those arguments, The New York Times published an editorial last week arguing that Snowden is a whistle-blower who should be given special legal treatment “considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed.”
“Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight,” the Times wrote. “He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.”
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), agree that Snowden should be shown leniency if he returns to the U.S. But many others agree with Hoyer that the 30-year-old North Carolina native should face the full extent of the law.
“Running away, being helped by Russia and China, is not in the tradition of a true civil disobedience practitioner,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told ABC's “This Week” program Sunday.