President Trump polled his aides on Thursday about whether he should let anti-surveillance whistleblower and leaker Edward Snowden return to the US from Russia without going to prison, saying he was open to it.
“There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly. I mean, I hear that,” Trump told The Post in an exclusive interview in the Oval Office, before soliciting views from his staff.
Trump commented on Snowden for the first time as president after accusing former President Barack Obama of spying on his 2016 campaign.
“When you look at [former FBI Director James] Comey and [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe, and [former CIA Director John] Brennan — and, excuse me, the man that sat at this desk, President Obama, got caught spying on my campaign with Biden. Biden and Obama, and they got caught spying on the campaign,” Trump said.
Trump’s comments reflect a remarkable softening in his views about the man he once deemed a “traitor” worthy of execution. Republican lawmakers and the Justice Department’s inspector general recently highlighted misuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the secret FISA court to surveil former Trump adviser Carter Page.
“Snowden is one of the people they talk about. They talk about numerous people, but he is certainly one of the people that they do talk about,” Trump said on Thursday, before turning to his aides. “I guess the DOJ is looking to extradite him right now? … It’s certainly something I could look at. Many people are on his side, I will say that. I don’t know him, never met him. But many people are on his side.”
The president then asked his staff: “How do you feel about that, Snowden? Haven’t heard the name in a long time.”
After polling the room, Trump added: “I’ve heard it both ways. From traitor to he’s being you know persecuted. I’ve heard it both ways.”
Snowden’s legal team has tried in vain to negotiate a prison-free return to the US for the former National Security Agency contractor, who exposed that the FISA court was secretly approving the dragnet collection of domestic call records.
Before taking office, Trump tweeted at least 45 times denouncing Snowden as a traitor and calling for his execution.
In a 2013 tweet, Trump wrote: “Snowden is a spy who should be executed-but if it and he could reveal Obama’s records, I might become a major fan.”
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