House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday morning that Congress will launch a "very serious" investigation into the release of documents revealing broad phone and Internet surveillance programs by the National Security Agency (NSA).
"The investigation will be very serious, obviously," Cantor said on CBS.
Cantor said Obama administration officials would start briefing Capitol Hill today on how information about the NSA program was revealed by Edward Snowden, the 29-year old Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who was working with the NSA. Cantor said a broader briefing will take place Tuesday on how the NSA program works.
"Right now, we know that there are active threats against the United States," he said. "We have terrorist threats that continue. There are possible security incidences that continue. And that's just the world that we live in.
"Certainly the reports seem to indicate that, that if anyone were to violate the law by releasing classified information outside the legal avenues, certainly that individual should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," he added.
When asked if he knew about the NSA program known as PRISM, Cantor said these sorts of programs "exist for us to … guard against a terrorist threat." He also said courts have upheld PRISM as constitutional.
At the same time, he acknowledged that Congress will also have to examine whether the NSA program has struck the proper balance between national security and civil liberties.
"The administration is responsible for implementing this program, Congress is responsible for the oversight of this program," he said. "Obviously, we'll be dealing with a balance between national security and safeguarding our civil liberties."
Cantor also indicated that he has questions about the way Snowden decided to release the information through the press, rather than using methods set up for whistle-blowers under U.S. law.
"We have a contractor that has been hired … this 29-year-old, who's now holed up in some hotel in Hong Kong claiming to be the defender of democracy somehow in the People's Republic of China," Cantor said.
The Guardian reported over the weekend that Snowden fled to a Hong Kong hotel after revealing details about the NSA program.
"You have to sort of step back and ask yourself: There are legal avenues for an individual who is concerned about the violations of civil liberties to go about addressing those concerns through the inspector general process, coming forward, asking for whistle-blower protection, going to the courts, coming to Congress," Cantor said.
"I don't know if that was done or not. It seems to me that he chose a route to go to a reporter, get holed up in some room in Hong Kong, and that ought to tell you something as well.
"All of us are really very perplexed right now," he added.
— This story was updated at 7:55 a.m.