House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was booed onstage Saturday when she said former government contractor Edward Snowden broke the law by leaking classified documents on National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs.
Speaking at the NetRoots Nation conference in San Jose, Calif., Pelosi told the audience to reject comparisons between President Barack Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, on their oversight of surveillance programs. The top House Democrat said Obama is poised to reveal "in another few days, a few more proceedings" of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
"He did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents," Pelosi said, drawing a thunder of boos from the crowd at the progressive conference. "I understand, I understand, but he did violate the law. And the fact is that, again, we have to have the balance between security and privacy, and we don't know what sources and methods may have been revealed, which is a tough thing."
"I feel sad that this had to come down to this because I know some of you attribute heroic status to that action, but again, you don't have the responsibility for the security of the U.S.," she added. "Those of us who do have to strike a different balance."
Federal prosecutors have charged Snowden with espionage and theft of government property, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Friday night.
Pelosi defended Obama's handling of the surveillance programs, noting that he met with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board for the first time on Friday. The federal board helps address concerns with the NSA's surveillance programs.
"The fact is that you should reject any notion that President Obama's actions have anything to do with what President Bush was doing or was done," Pelosi said, adding that there was no Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court under the Bush administration.
When the moderator of the panel discussion, Zerlina Maxwell, tried to quiet the hecklers, Pelosi said she welcomed the opportunity for debate.
"I think that it's really important for this discussion to take place," she said, before being interrupted by a yell in the crowd. "I think it's really important to subject all of this to the most transparent and harshest scrutiny to say, 'OK, we want a balance between security and privacy and freedom.'"
But shortly after Pelosi was booed over her comments on Snowden, she received applause from the crowd by declaring that "the real crime is outsourcing our national security."
"I'm with you, babe, all the way," Pelosi said, responding to a comment shouted out from a person in the crowd that criticized the government's outsourcing of defense work. "The real problem is outsourcing our national security. I am so with you on that."
In particular, she noted that former NSA Director Mike McConnell had bounced back and forth between working for Booz Allen Hamilton and the intelligence community, and over the years the company had secured several contracts from the federal government.
"This really is astounding," Pelosi said. "It's astounding. It's wrong."
Regarding immigration, Pelosi stressed the need for Congress to pass legislation that improves the country's immigration laws. Pelosi said she hoped House Republicans learned their lesson from the outcome of the failed farm bill vote this past week when it comes time to vote on immigration.
"I'm hoping that really they will have some lessons learned about…the amateurishness about how they approached it, so they can sweep that aside as we go forward with the immigration bill, which must pass," she said.
At the end of the discussion, Pelosi signaled that she would support former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if she ran for president in 2016.
"I think soon we will have a female president," Pelosi said, while quickly adding that she didn't know whether Clinton will formally run.