Rep. Peter King, past chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, lashed out at President Barack Obama on Friday for allowing NSA "traitor" Edward Snowden to pull his "puppet strings."
"This man is a traitor to our country. He's been indicted for espionage in a time of war, and the president somehow feels he has to cater to him," snapped King, appearing on CNN after the president announced planned changes to the Patriot Act and other aspects of U.S. surveillance programs.
Speaking to reporters during an afternoon press conference at the White House, Obama insisted he would have probably made the same changes without Snowden’s leaks.
NBC’s Chuck Todd pressed the president on whether he has had a change of heart about the man he once described as a "29-year-old hacker."
“Given that you just announced a whole bunch of reforms based on essentially the leaks that Edward Snowden made on all of these surveillance programs, does that change — is your mindset changed about him? Is he now more a whistleblower than he is a hacker, as you called him at one point, or somebody that shouldn't be filed charges? And should he be provided more protection? Is he a patriot?”
Obama countered that he had called for a “thorough review of our surveillance operations” prior to Snowden’s leaks.
“I don't think Mr. Snowden was a patriot,” the president asserted. “My preference — and I think the American people's preference — would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws; a thoughtful, fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place, because I never made claims that all the surveillance technologies that have developed since the time some of these laws had been put in place somehow didn't require, potentially, some additional reforms. That's exactly what I called for.”
Obama said that Snowden should make his case in court “if in fact he believes that what he did was right.”
King, a New York Republican, said Obama was not sufficiently outraged when asked about Snowden’s patriotism.
“There was no outrage there when he was asked: ‘Do you think he was a patriot? No, I don't think he is.’ What do you mean you don't think he is? This man is a traitor. He's been indicted for espionage in a time of war,” he said.
King said the president has been largely “AWOL” and “MIA” from the national debate over Snowden. He viewed the president’s response to Todd’s question as tepid.
“I wish he showed the same anger toward Edward Snowden as he did to the Republicans on Obamacare,” said King, who told Newsmax earlier this month that he may seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 to save his troubled party.
He also accused the president of failing to demonstrate “war-time leadership” on a “very successful” program.
“He should have been on nationwide television, told exactly what this program was and not coming in now saying Snowden has concerns, I have concerns, let's see if we can set up a task force to work it out,” added King. “No, this is warfare going on right now. And the president has been a good leader on the NSA until the program was disclosed in bits and pieces by Edward Snowden. And now, he seems to be in retreat.”
During the news conference Obama pledged to “improve the public’s confidence” in the oversight provided by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He said he also had directed the intelligence community to “make public as much information about these programs as possible” and he said the Department of Justice would make public the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Obama said the National Security Agency is already taking steps to put in place a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer and to release information about its mission, authorities and oversight, at least in part on a planned website that will serve as a “hub” for transparency.
“Fourth, we're forming a high level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies,” Obama added.
King said the president should be "defending his program effectively and loudly."
"In a time of war, to somehow be setting up a task force to tell him what he should be doing … Can you imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman or Winston Churchill doing this?" King asked. "We're at war. Every program we have is susceptible to some reform. But to be silent about it and suddenly jump because Edward Snowden revealed secrets and put our country at risk…"
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