President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE said Saturday he is considering a pardon for Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who was charged with espionage in 2013 after disclosing a trove of documents about U.S. surveillance programs.
"I’m going to look at it," Trump said during a news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. "I’m not that aware of the Snowden situation, but I’m going to start looking at it."
"It seems to be a split decision. There are many people think that he should be somehow treated differently and other people think he did very bad things," he added.
Snowden fled the U.S. and gained asylum in Russia after releasing a cache of classified documents that exposed the wide scope of surveillance inside the U.S. intelligence community. Federal prosecutors also charged him with theft of government property.
Q: "Do you want to give Edward Snowden a pardon and bring him back?"— The Hill (@thehill) August 15, 2020
President Trump: "I'm going to look at it." pic.twitter.com/Lb75QVaGVb
Trump's remarks marked a significant shift in his views of Snowden. Following the NSA leaks in 2013, Trump called Snowden a "terrible threat" and a "terrible traitor." He also suggested executing the whistleblower, saying, "you know what we used to do in the good old days when we were a strong country — you know what we used to do to traitors, right?”
He told the New York Post in an interview last Thursday he was mulling whether the U.S. should allow Snowden to return from Russia without going to prison.
“There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly. I mean, I hear that,” Trump said, later adding that "it’s certainly something I could look at."
"Many people are on his side, I will say that. I don’t know him, never met him. But many people are on his side,” Trump said.
Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer for Snowden in Russia, told the RIA news agency that the U.S. should drop all charges against his client in addition to offering him a pardon, according to Reuters.
“He was acting not only in the interest of the American citizens, but in the interest of all the humankind,” Kucherena said.
Snowden has remained in Russia since first fleeing the U.S. roughly seven years ago. He published a memoir, "Permanent Record," last year recounting his time in the NSA and why he chose to expose some of its inner workings.
The Justice Department in September 2019 filed a civil lawsuit against Snowden, alleging the book violated a nondisclosure agreement with the federal government.
Pardoning Snowden has gained increasing support in the years since the leak. A number of lawmakers and civil liberties advocates voiced approval of Trump's recent comments, arguing that Snowden provided a public service with his actions.
"Edward @Snowden is a whistleblower who exposed unconstitutional surveillance practices that violated the rights of millions," Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashDemocrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance Vietnam shadow hangs over Biden decision on Afghanistan Kamala Harris and our shameless politics MORE (L-Mich.) said in a tweet. "He deserves the opportunity to return to the United States and receive a pardon as part of a fair process that examines his actions."