During an interview with the New York Post Thursday, President Donald Trump wondered aloud whether he should let surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden return to the United States. He even went so far as to solicit responses from his staff.
Per the Post, Trump discussed it, as he discusses many things, through the filter of what happened to him. After complaining that his campaign had been surveilled, he pivoted to Snowden:
"Snowden is one of the people they talk about. They talk about numerous people, but he is certainly one of the people that they do talk about," Trump said on Thursday, before turning to his aides. "I guess the DOJ [Department of Justice] is looking to extradite him right now?…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."
The president then asked his staff: "How do you feel about that, Snowden? Haven't heard the name in a long time."
After polling the room, Trump added: "I've heard it both ways. From traitor to he's being you know persecuted. I've heard it both ways."
There's no explanation of what Trump means when he says "they" are talking about Snowden, but it's a familiar Trump tic to indicate some sort of unidentified group of people is talking about an issue whenever he's talking about it.
This isn't the first time Snowden was brought up to Trump this week. At a press briefing on Tuesday, a reporter mentioned that the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General had found issues with the warrant applications to wiretap former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and that part of Snowden's surveillance claims were that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court tends to rubber-stamp warrant requests. Given that, the journalist continued, should Snowden be allowed to return to the United States without facing criminal charges?
Trump didn't directly answer the question then, turning instead to complaining that his campaign had been illegally spied upon and then pivoting to talking about how "nasty" Kamala Harris had been to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. (This was the day Biden named Harris as his running mate.) He never even mentioned Snowden at all.
Prior to becoming president, Trump was very much in the "Snowden is a traitor" camp. The Post notes he had on 45 separate occasions tweeted denunciations of Snowden, who revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been collecting and storing huge amounts of Americans' phone and online data records. At one point Trump called for his execution.
But that was then and this is now. Trump's idea has gained support from Snowden's usual supporters. Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.), for example, tweeted this today:
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) August 14, 2020
Don't assume that this means a pardon is on the way. Although he complains a lot about the FISA court and federal surveillance of him and his campaign staff, Trump signed a bill in 2018 that renewed and even expanded the government's ability to secretly wiretap Americans. On the other hand, his displeasure with a bill that renewed some of the PATRIOT Act's surveillance powers prompted Republicans in Congress to reverse their previous support, and it did not pass.
In related FISA court surveillance news, today former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who had been assigned to the team handling the investigation into possible Russian ties to Trump's campaign, revealed he'll be pleading guilty to charges that he altered an email from the CIA that was used to justify the Page wiretaps. Who knows? Maybe an actual conviction of someone who broke the law while investigating people close to Trump might convince the president that Snowden was right to reveal the security state's surveillance.