United States Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) says he plans to sue the US government over the spy programs exposed by Edward Snowden, but in the meantime he isn’t willing just yet to endorse the idea of giving clemency to the former contractor.
After National Security Agency documents detailing a previously underreported surveillance apparatus were leaked earlier this year, Sen. Paul said he’d begin recruiting Americans to participate in a class action lawsuit challenging the government’s uncloaked spy programs. Last week he indicated that he’s just about ready to file suit, but now is going on the record to say that the man responsible for those disclosures shouldn’t be offered a free pass.
When Snowden, the former NSA contractor, first began leaking documents last June, government officials far and wide asked for his prosecution. He has since been accused of espionage by the US Department of Justice and stands to face decades in prison if convicted. First, however, he would have to return to the US to stand trial.
Last week, the editorial boards at both the New York Times and Britain’s the Guardian asked the US government to give Snowden clemency. The topic has certainly polarized Washington in recent months, but last week’s op-eds renewed interest in the Snowden case among individuals close to both the government and intelligence community.
Speaking to reporters at both ABC and CBS this weekend, Sen. Paul said he thinks Snowden should return to the US to stand trial, and that a “penalty of a few years in prison” would be sufficient punishment.
“Do I think that it's OK to leak secrets and give up national secrets and things that could endanger lives? I don't think that's OK,” the senator said while appearing on ABC’s This Week news program. “But I think the courts are now saying that what he revealed was something the government was doing was illegal.”
“I think, really, in the end,” Paul told ABC, “history’s going to judge that he revealed great abuses of our government and great abuses of our intelligence community.”
In a separate interview conducted over the weekend with CBS News’ Face the Nation, Sen. Paul shunned the notion that Snowden should be imprisoned for the rest of his life for revealing those abuses.
“I don't think Edward Snowden deserves the death penalty or life in prison. I think that's inappropriate. And I think that's why he fled, because that's what he faced,” he said. “I think the only way he's coming home is if someone would offer him a fair trial with a reasonable sentence.”
Also in need of a trial, the senator suggested, is Director of Intelligence James Clapper. While Snowden’s pilfering of sensitive files may have violated federal law, erroneous comments made by Clapper before Congress earlier this year about those same surveillance programs exposed through the NSA leaks should be grounds to have the DNI tried as well, the senator said.
“I don’t think we can selectively apply the law. So James Clapper did break the law and there is a prison sentence for that. So did Edward Snowden,” Paul told ABC. “So I think personally he probably would come home for some penalty of a few years in prison which would be probably not unlike what James Clapper probably deserves for lying to Congress, and that maybe if they served in a prison cell together, we’d become further enlightened as a country over what we should and shouldn’t do.”
Seven months after fleeing the States, however, Snowden seems unlikely to surrender himself to the American justice system anytime soon. In the meantime, though, Sen. Paul says he will be going to court to reign in the NSA’s operations.
“I've asked internet providers and phone companies to join me in a class-action lawsuit to STOP Barack Obama's NSA from snooping on the American people,” Paul announced on his website last week.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, over 250,000 people signed up to participate in Paul’s class-action suit by Saturday afternoon.
"[E]verybody in American who has a cell phone would be eligible for this class-action suit,” the senator said.