US Senator Rand Paul defends Snowden over leaks

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky debates whether Edward J. Snowden deserves leniency or the strict treatment the Obama administration has demanded for divulging a vast array of national secrets.

Senator Paul, a libertarian-minded Republican, said he disagreed with those who have argued for the most severe penalties for Mr. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor.

“I don’t think Edward Snowden deserves a 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,” Mr. Paul said on the ABC News program “This Week.”

“I think, really, in the end,” Mr. Paul added, “history’s going to judge that he revealed great abuses of our government and great abuses of our intelligence community” by exposing the broad sweep of electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Without directly suggesting some sort of bargain to reduce the charges Mr. Snowden faces and perhaps pave the way for his return from exile in Russia, Mr. Paul said, “I think the only way he’s coming home is if someone would offer him a fair trial with a reasonable sentence.”

But a leading Democrat, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, took a directly opposing view.

Calls for leniency, which have also come from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and from commentators at home and abroad, have been fueled by a federal judge’s ruling that one of the surveillance programs Mr. Snowden exposed was probably unconstitutional.

In June, federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Snowden charging him with theft and two violations of the 1917 Espionage Act.

Mr. Paul suggested that James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, might deserve some prison time for his misleading testimony in March — before the Snowden revelations began to emerge. Asked at an open congressional hearing whether the security agency collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” he replied, “No, sir,” adding, “not wittingly.”

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