President Trump said on Saturday that he would consider pardoning Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who faced criminal charges after leaking classified documents about vast government surveillance.
“There are many, many people — it seems to be a split decision — many people think that he should be somehow be treated differently and other people think he did very bad things,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “I’m going to take a very good look at it.”
The remarks signal a shift for the president, who repeatedly denigrated Mr. Snowden as a “traitor” and a “spy who should be executed” in the years before his election. The disclosures by Mr. Snowden, who sought asylum in Russia in 2013, set off a broad debate about surveillance and privacy.
Critics have accused Mr. Snowden of treason for revealing classified information while privacy and civil liberties advocates have praised him for exposing the scope of the government’s surveillance programs, which included sweeping up phone records of American citizens and eavesdropping on foreign leaders.
Speculation about a pardon for Mr. Snowden has grown over the past week after the president commented on the case in an interview with the The New York Post on Thursday. “There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly,” Mr. Trump said in the interview. “I mean, I hear that.”
For Mr. Snowden, a pardon would be a chance to return to the United States. In 2013, he was charged with violating the Espionage Act, which carries a prison sentence. As long as he faces those charges, Mr. Snowden has said he will not return to the United States. Human rights groups previously urged President Barack Obama to pardon Mr. Snowden, but they had no success.
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SOURCE: The New York Times, Aishvarya Kavi