Ex-Homeland Security chief: No clemency for Snowden

Posted at 11:07 AM, Jan 05, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-05 11:07:22-05

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Count Janet Napolitano among the Washington luminaries dismissing the possibility of clemency for NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

In an interview with NBC’s David Gregory that aired Sunday on “Meet the Press,” the former Homeland Security secretary rejected any possibility of excusing the contractor-turned-whistleblower, saying Snowden significantly damaged the United States’ intelligence infrastructure.

Her stance clashes with a former high-level State Department official’s call for the White House to do what The New York Times recommended in a controversial editorial: drop all charges against Snowden and allow the 30-year old contractor to return to the United States.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, the State Department’s ex-director of policy planning, tweeted Thursday that she agreed with the Times piece, which asserted Snowden “deserves better than [the] life of permanent exile, fear and flight” he currently faces.

The Justice Department charged Snowden with three counts of violating the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the unauthorized communication of classified information and theft of government property. Each count carries prison sentences of 10 years and, given that government prosecutors are likely to tack on more charges if his case were to reach a grand jury, Snowden could ultimately be looking at life behind bars were he to return to the country.

The Times editorial also berated “the shrill brigade of critics” responsible for demonizing Snowden without offering concrete proof his disclosures have in fact harmed national security. Napolitano similarly spoke in only platitudes about how the media reports spawned by Snowden’s documents to journalists have stunted intelligence operations.

“I think Snowden has exacted quite a bit of damage and did it in a way that violated that law,” the ex-DHS chief said. “The damage we’ll see now and we’ll see it for years to come.”

Asked by Gregory whether she believes the administration should consider negotiating a plea bargain with Snowden in exchange for the return of classified documents, the former Department of Homeland Security chief hesitated to weigh in, saying she “would require intimate knowledge of what he allegedly has” to properly evaluate if such a deal could be brokered.

“From where I sit today, I would not put clemency on the table at all,” she said.

Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jay Carney scoffed at the suggestion, telling reporters that the administration’s position on Snowden has not changed since President Barack Obama called for him to return home and face charges in August.

Still, schisms exist within the administration on whether Snowden should be shown leniency. The man tasked with heading the NSA’s investigation into the unauthorized disclosures, Richard Ledgett, said in a “60 Minutes” piece last month that clemency is “worth having a conversation about.”