President Donald Trump recently floated the possibility of a pardon for whistleblower Edward Snowden, who famously informed the public that the National Security Agency (NSA) was secretly collecting and storing millions of Americans' private phone and online records.
The proposition sort of came out of nowhere—it was a response to a reporter's question—and is probably basically a reflection of Trump's willingness to make any idea a trial balloon, plus his now-permanent animosity toward America's federal intelligence agencies for investigating his campaign. Before Trump became president, he repeatedly called Snowden a traitor and even demanded his execution.
If Trump did, in fact, pardon Snowden, that would be great. But some high-level responses over the weekend might give you the impression that Trump was considering something really awful—like, I don't know, bombing a foreign country without congressional authorization, or maybe secretly snooping on citizens' online data.
Susan Rice, former national security adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations, was one of the final four possible running mates for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden before he ultimately chose California Sen. Kamala Harris.
After this tweet from Rice, many Democrats are probably relieved she wasn't the choice:
I. Just. Can't.
Congratulations GOP. This is who you are now. https://t.co/CAE98A7qjV
— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) August 16, 2020
"This is who you are now." If only it were true that the GOP were the party opposed to warrantless surveillance! But sadly, neither major party can actually make that claim. There are a number of elected Republicans who support what Snowden did and oppose this violation of Americans' privacy, but not nearly enough to comprise the majority.
All summer long, we've seen story after story about the use of surveillance against protesters demanding police reform. The Democratic Party is most certainly going to be positioning itself this week as criminal justice reformers and in opposition to overly harsh or oppressive policing systems. How tone-deaf do you have to be to attack the Republican Party for possibly not imprisoning a surveillance whistleblower? The American Civil Liberties Union thinks Snowden should be pardoned. The New York Times editorial board called him a whistleblower and wants him to at least get clemency. But not Rice.
Rice got backup from NeverTrumper columnist Jennifer Rubin, who seems upset that the Cold War is over:
Old enough to remember when they were Cold Warriors. Now they praise a traitor and let Putin get away with targeting our troops.
— Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) August 16, 2020
Rep. Liz Cheney (R–Wy.), daughter of the warmongering ex-veep Dick Cheney, was happy to pile on with the "traitor" nonsense:
Edward Snowden is a traitor.
He is responsible for the largest and most damaging release of classified info in US history.
He handed over US secrets to Russian and Chinese intelligence putting our troops and our nation at risk.
Pardoning him would be unconscionable.
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) August 16, 2020
We have no good evidence that Snowden gave secrets to the Russian and Chinese governments. He gave them to journalists who revealed them to the American public. And the big revelations were about how the NSA treated American citizens.
Cheney focuses on Russia and China here, but the NSA's apologists have traditionally justified this surveillance as a much-needed way to find out who might have been coordinating with Islamic terrorists overseas. Does anybody remember intelligence officials' absurd argument that in order to find the needle in the haystack, they needed to build the haystack first? They said they needed everyone's data in order to search for the "bad guys'" data. This never had anything to do with Russia or China, even if Snowden ended up having to flee to Hong Kong and live in exile in Russia.
The NSA itself has voluntarily abandoned this surveillance. Not only was it ineffective at actually finding threats, but the spies discovered that they simply couldn't collect this information without repeatedly violating innocent Americans' privacy rights.
It's 2020, and people are marching on the streets to stop an overly powerful police state. And yet we're still seeing people calling Snowden a traitor? Really?
Bonus video: ReasonTV on the case for pardoning Snowden: