Former President Jimmy Carter said Thursday that if he were in the White House today, he would consider giving Edward Snowden a presidential pardon.
In an interview with BBC News' "Newsnight"
program, Carter said his hypothetical decision would be based on an assessment of the damage done by the former NSA contractor, whose leaks revealed details of the agency's top-secret phone and Internet surveillance program.
Snowden is currently living quietly in Russia under temporary asylum. He has said he does not believe he'd get a fair trial in the United States due to government restrictions in the Espionage Act.
"If he comes home, it's obvious that Edward Snowden has violated laws and he's allowed to be put on trial," Carter told the BBC.
"If he's tried, if he's found guilty, if he was incarcerated, and I was president — a lot of ifs — then I would certainly consider giving him a pardon. But it would be based on the fact that the punishment, in my own personal opinion, exceeded the harm that he did to our country."
Carter's position contrasts with President Barack Obama's more hard-line
remarks made in January.
"I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or his motivations. I will say that our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets," Obama said at the time.
"If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy."
"Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come."
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