No 'yes/no' answer on Snowden clemency, Obama says

President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAbrams targets Black churchgoers during campaign stops for McAuliffe in Virginia Virginia race looms as dark cloud over Biden's agenda  The root of Joe Biden's troubles MORE said in an interview earlier this week that he did not “have a yes/no answer” on clemency for Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor responsible for leaking details about top-secret government surveillance programs.

In an interview with The New Yorker, Obama said that while Snowden’s leaks raised “legitimate policy questions” about government surveillance programs, the leaks had revealed nothing illegal and “put people at risk."


“The issue then is: Is the only way to do that by giving some twenty-nine-year-old free rein to basically dump a mountain of information, much of which is definitely legal, definitely necessary for national security, and should properly be classified?” Obama asked.

Ultimately, the president said, what Snowden revealed was “not akin to Watergate or some scandal in which there were coverups involved.” And, he argued, “the benefit of the debate he generated was not worth the damage done, because there was another way of doing it.”

Still, Obama was noncommittal on the possibility of clemency for Snowden, an idea that some in the intelligence community have floated as a way to end additional leaks about the surveillance program.

“I do not have a yes/no answer on clemency for Edward Snowden,” Obama said. “This is an active case, where charges have been brought.”

Last year, White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed the suggestion, saying that the administration's position on Snowden's need to return home to face justice had not changed "at all."

"Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information and he faces felony charges here in the United States," Carney said.

But Richard Ledgett, who heads an NSA task force handling unauthorized disclosures, suggested in a "60 Minutes" interview that the U.S. should consider a deal offering Snowden amnesty in exchange for returning additional documents outlining the government's top-secret surveillance programs.

“My personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about,” Ledgett said. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.”

During his address on proposed intelligence reforms on Friday, Obama said he would not “dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations” because the investigation against him were ongoing. But more generally, Obama said that the “nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets.”

“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy,” Obama said. “Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.”